Israeli settlers angry at reports of US seeking construction freeze
Kerry aides quoted as saying request will be part of framework agreement
Palestinians waving national flags last week during a protest against the expansion of the Maaleh Adumim settlement in the West Bank. Photograph: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images
Israel’s right wing has reacted angrily to reports that Washington will seek an Israeli construction freeze in areas of the West Bank outside the main settlement blocs as soon as an American-drafted framework agreement is finalised.
The Yesha settlers’ council called on Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reject US pressure, saying it had been promised the previous construction freeze in 2010 would not be repeated, since it had not achieved results and only caused Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to become more entrenched in his position.
Deputy defence minister Danny Danon, a member of Mr Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, accused US secretary of state John Kerry of trying to turn the government into a branch of the left-wing opposition Meretz party.
Israeli army radio quoted Mr Kerry’s aides as saying the US request will be an integral part of the framework agreement that will allow for the talks to continue beyond the nine-month deadline in April.
The framework agreement is expected to be made public early next month when US president Barack Obama hosts Mr Netanyahu at the White House.
According to the radio report the Israeli side was well aware that only significant further concessions by Israel will be enough to persuade the Palestinians to continue the peace talks until the end of the year.
A 10-month partial freeze on new West Bank building, which expired in late 2010, failed to convince the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel as it did not include disputed areas in east Jerusalem , which the Palestinians seek as the capital of a future independent state.
Up until now Israel has refused to consider another settlement freeze.
The unofficial freeze would not require an official Israeli government decision, or even a declaration, making it easier for Mr Netanyahu to avoid a right-wing backlash.
Instead, the government would place bureaucratic obstacles on building in isolated West Bank settlements, in areas that are likely to come under Palestinian sovereignty as part of a peace agreement. In addition, new tenders would not be issued for building in areas outside of the main settlement blocs Israel hopes to annex under a land swap arrangement.
There was no comment from Israeli officials over the report.
Direct bilateral negotiations resumed in July 2013 but to date there has been little sign of progress on the core issues.
During the negotiations Israel has announced plans for more than 11,700 new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, drawing international criticism and prompting Palestinian officials to accuse Israel of trying to change facts on the ground.
Mr Kerry, who was due to meet last night in Paris with Mr Abbas, is continuing in mediation efforts to narrow the gaps ahead of the presentation of the framework proposals.
Mr Abbas said on Sunday that he was not looking “to flood Israel” with returning Palestinian refugees.