A report in this morning’s Yediot Ahronot claims that Israel’s government has introduced a de facto construction freeze in West Bank settlements beyond the major settlement blocs, areas which it is assumes will remain under Israeli sovereignty in any future peace deal.
It was reported last week by Army Radio that the United States had requested such an unofficial moratorium if Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) agree to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework plan, in order to maintain subsequent progress in peace talks. The very suggestion of a construction freeze, even in isolated settlements caused significant anger among right-wing leaders, including those in Netanyahu’s Likud Party. Some 21 MKs signed a letter declaring “We oppose any kind of freeze, including a settlement freeze outside of recognised blocs, and we will see any such Israeli commitment as utterly unacceptable.”
However, according to this morning’s Yediot Ahronot, a freeze is already in place in practice if not in name. The report claims that last week Jordan Valley Regional Council Chairman David Elhayani called Cabinet Secretary Avihai Mandelblit to inquire as to why several construction projects in the Jordan Valley had been delayed despite receiving Defence Ministry approval. Mandleblit apparently explained that there were “instructions from the political echelon” not to advance building plans beyond the major settlement blocs. Elhayani accused Mandelblit of “suffocating the Jordan Valley,” an important strategic area which has been a point of dispute during recent peace talks.
John Kerry is expected during the coming weeks to present Israeli and Palestinian leaders with his framework plan for final status talks, which he hopes will pave the way for peace negotiations to continue beyond their original end of April deadline. However, Elhayani is quoted in this morning’s report saying that, “Anyone who talks about the possibility of a freeze outside the blocs after Kerry’s document is submitted doesn’t realize that the freeze already exists in practice.”