Sebastian Scheiner/AP Photo
New construction at the Jewish West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, on Jerusalem's outskirts, Monday, Sept. 7, 2009.
New construction at the Jewish West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, on Jerusalem's outskirts, Monday, Sept. 7, 2009. Sebastian Scheiner/AP Photo
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday his government was placing a 10-month freeze on Jewish West Bank settlements.
But he rejected any freeze on settlement construction in East Jerusalem an area Arabs long inhabited but which conservative Israelis claim as part of their national capital.
Netanyahu said he hoped the move would allow peace talks between Israel and Palestinians to be restarted. But Palestinians dismissed the Israeli action since East Jerusalem was excluded from the building moratorium.
An excerpt from reporting on the Israeli Haaretz.com news website:
"I hope that this decision will help launch meaningful negotiations to reach a historic peace agreement that would finally end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians," Netanyahu said at a special press conference he held shortly after the security cabinet approved the moratorium.
He added: "We have been told by many of our friends that once Israel takes the first meaningful steps toward peace, the Palestinians and Arab states would respond."
Settlement building has been a key sticking point in U.S. efforts to restart Middle East peace talks; the Palestinians say they will not return to the negotiating table without a complete halt to construction.
During the press conference, Netanyahu said the "far-reaching and painful" move would not be implemented in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, which is viewed by Israel as a separate issue to be discussed in a final status agreement with the Palestinians.
"We do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital," the premier said.
The freeze applies only to new construction, meaning housing already underway will continue. Also, Netanyahu said, only new homes are included.
"We will not halt existing construction and we will continue to build synagogues, schools, kindergartens and public buildings essential for normal life in the settlements," he said.