Israel’s 10-month freeze on new housing starts in West Bank settlements expires at the end of this month and is a key point of contention in newly launched peace talks with the Palestinians. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened repeatedly to quit the talks if Israel does not renew the restrictions.
Netanyahu told Mideast envoy Tony Blair, “the Palestinians demand that after Sept. 26, there will be zero building” in the West Bank.
“That will not happen,” Netanyahu said. Israel will not build “tens of thousands of housing units that are in the pipeline, but we will not freeze the lives of the residents.”
He did not provide details or timelines, but his statement means the ban on new housing starts would be at least partially lifted.
The prime minister the imposed a 10-month settlement slowdown in the West Bank to promote the resumption of peace talks. But several thousand housing units already being built were allowed to continue, and the measure does not apply to Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Even so, there has been a de facto halt to new construction there as well.
Over the weekend President Barack Obama urged Netanyahu to keep the slowdown in place.
Members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party and government coalition partners oppose extending the restrictions on housing starts.