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Israel Freezes New Settlement Projects in West Bank


Israel has made a concession to the United States in a bid to ease a simmering dispute over Jewish settlements.

Israel has announced that since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office five months ago, the government has not initiated any new housing projects in the West Bank.

Housing Minister Ariel Atias told Israel Radio that the settlements are "in a holding pattern," with the aim of improving ties with the United States and reviving the peace process.

Israel's dovish Peace Now movement, which monitors settlement activity, confirmed that there have been no new housing starts in the West Bank in five months.

Israel-U.S. relations have been strained since the Obama administration demanded a complete freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu has resisted that, saying Israel reserves the right to build anywhere in Jerusalem because it is the nation's eternal capital.

And while West Bank construction already in progress is continuing, Atias says the freeze on new projects is a clear nod to the U.S.

The housing minister said Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want a confrontation with Washington, and he is taking the necessary steps to preserve the special relationship between Israel and the United States.

The White House responded positively, saying "both sides ... are making progress on the settlement issue."

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