Israel will not impose a complete halt on settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land as demanded by the US, a senior official said yesterday.
“Israel will not freeze natural growth and will not suffocate the life of 300,000 Israelis who live in settlements in all legality,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told public radio.
The international community considers all settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem illegal, saying they violate international law under which an occupying power cannot transfer part of its population to the land it occupies.
Israeli media has said hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was willing to consider a three-month construction freeze, but would exclude east Jerusalem from the moratorium, as well as the 2,000 to 3,200 private homes being built in the West Bank.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak had said on Wednesday that Israel would consider a limited moratorium on new construction in Jewish settlements, linking the step to US efforts to bring Arab states into a broad peace process.
In a TV interview, Barak said a construction freeze was “part of a much wider issue, whether together with the United States and our Palestinian and Arab neighbors, we can launch an original peace initiative to be led by the president of the United States”.
In an interview with Israel Radio, he said Israel hopes to persuade the US to accept a continuation of existing building projects to meet the needs of the growing population in settlements Israel hopes to keep in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
“Do you think someone in America thinks that pregnancies can be stopped or that nursery schools shouldn’t be built?” Barak asked.