(INN, AFP).The Obama administration reportedly wants Israel to implement a "silent freeze" of Jewish homebuilding in eastern Jerusalem and the mountains of Samaria and Judea to coax the Palestinian Authority (PA) into agreeing to negotiate with Israel.
According to Israeli daily Maariv, the United States wants the freeze to be undeclared and partial. The idea is that Israel will not build new neighborhoods but will be allowed to build within existing ones. Any transgression of these terms will result in "harsh steps" against Israel by the U.S.
Haaretz reported on friday, thatPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ready to partially freeze West Bank settlement building if it will bring the Palestinians back to direct talks, Netanyahu's offer was made on Wednesday in talks with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin.
During the meeting, which came a day after she held talks with president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah, Holguin told Netanyahu that the Palestinian leader desperately needed a symbolic gesture on settlements if he was to return to negotiations, a senior Israeli official told the paper.
In response, Netanyahu said he would be "ready to make such a gesture if it would return Abbas to the negotiating table" and agreed to freeze all government-sponsored construction and all building on state land, But he said he would not agree to freeze settlement activity by private developers on privately owned land -- which, according to a recent Palestinian study, constitutes around 80 percent of settlement activity.
"Netanyahu said he was ready to test Abbas by making the gesture regarding settlements. "If Abbas is serious about negotiations, he will renew direct talks."
Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev refused to comment directly on the Haaretz report, saying only: "The prime minister's position has not changed -- he is ready for direct peace talks with the Palestinian Authority without any preconditions
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) was quick to chop down the idea. "After ten months of a loud and unprecedented freeze, it is outrageous to see that the Obama administration still believes that construction in the settlements is indeed an obstacle on the road to negotiations," she said.
"There is no difference between a silent and loud freeze," she added. "The public's clear choice of the right wing will not allow a second freeze of construction in Judea and Samaria, no matter what statement comes out of the Prime Minister's office."