Barak may use legal loopholes to impose de facto settlement freeze
As Netanyahu evades U.S. pressure to halt construction, defense minister
seeks alternative restrictions.
By Barak Ravid and Natasha Mozgovaya Haaretz Published 02:18 17.09.10
Defense Minister Ehud Barak held initial discussions with defense officials
this week about the approaching end of the building freeze in the West Bank.
He is trying to find ways to restrict settlement construction by the Defense
Ministry, which is the de facto authority in the West Bank, without issuing
a new order to suspend construction when the moratorium ends on September
A senior official familiar with the debate on the construction freeze said
new building in the West Bank could be delayed through legal measures for a
long time. The ministry is also examining legal steps it can take to delay
the construction of 2,000 housing units that had been approved before the
construction freeze went into place.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at his meetings this week with
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he would not extend the moratorium
on construction. The official said that, instead of a new suspension order,
which would require the approval of both the cabinet and the forum of seven
ministers, Israel could reach quiet understandings with the Americans on
limiting the construction for several months.
It is expected that such understandings would enable the Americans to
persuade the Palestinian Authority not to quit the negotiations, the
Barak is due to leave Saturday night for Washington, where he will meet with
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor General James
Jones. He is also scheduled to meet with Clinton.
Clinton, who left for Jordan after meeting with Abbas yesterday in Ramallah,
spoke at an appearance with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, where
she praised the Arab peace initiative as an excellent document.
She said she was not sure many Arabs or Israelis had actually read the Arab
peace plan, which was adopted by the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002,
explaining that the plan "holds out the very promise we seek."
The initiative proposes a recognition of Israel on the part of all Arab
states if it pulls out of the territories it seized in 1967, including East
Clinton, who met Abbas in the Palestinian Authority headquarters in
Ramallah, yesterday also suggested extending the partial freeze for even a
limited amount of time.
"Where we sit now it would be useful for some extension, it would be
extremely useful," Clinton said in the interview. "I don't think a limited
extension would undermine the process going forward if there were a decision
agreed to by both parties." Clinton added that the United States believes it
is necessary to create a good "atmosphere" for the renewed talks and that,
like Netanyahu, she regretted that negotiations had not begun sooner.
In a separate interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour in Jerusalem, Clinton
said hard work was under way "to make sure there remains a conducive
atmosphere to constructive talks."
Clinton held talks in Jordan yesterday with King Abdullah, wrapping up the
round of negotiations that began in Egypt on Tuesday.