Netanyahu considers partial extension of settlement freeze
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to reach a compromise with the Palestinian Authority over the renewal of the settlement moratorium in the West Bank, recent press reports indicate. At a meeting with Likud ministers on Sunday, and in a subsequent meeting with Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair, the prime minister hinted that he intends to offer a partial settlement freeze after 26 September, which would limit construction to the major settlement blocs - generally considered as consisting of Gush Etzion and Ma'aleh Adumim in the Jerusalem area, and Ariel near the Green Line. Such a policy would place the government in line with the approach on this issue taken by the previous Israeli government of Ehud Olmert. Haaretz newspaper today quotes an un-named official who said that Netanyahu has presented his plan to adopt Olmert's policy to US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Extending the freeze in its current form will likely place significant stains on Netanyahu's coalition. Right wing elements in the Israeli government, meanwhile, including foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, have made clear that a full renewal of the freeze would mean their departure from the coalition. Knesset members from Netanyahu's own party have expressed their objection to the extension of the freeze and may challenge the prime minister if such a policy is maintained.
According to a report in Ynetnews today, Palestinian officials no longer consider that a failure to continue with the current moratorium will constitute a reason for the PA to break off the talks. This had until now been the clear public position of the PA. However, the sources said that the Palestinians now understood that some building, especially in the main settlement blocs, would take place. But they stressed that they expected the US to strongly oppose construction elsewhere. They also said that they expected US pressure on Israel in other areas of outstanding disagreement, in return for their agreement to continue talks despite the likely non-renewal of the settlement moratorium. At present, it looks most likely that some kind of compromise will enable the avoidance of an early end to the renewed direct negotiations.