Under pressure from the United States to halt settlement expansion,
Israel's leader is trying to calm the fears of one of his most
important constituents: Jewish residents of the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached out to Jewish settlers angry
over his plan to declare a partial freeze on settlement construction in
response to demands by the United States. Mr. Netanyahu is a hawk who
has long supported Israel's controversial settlement enterprise. And
his message was defiant. He said Israelis will compromise for peace but
will not be "suckers."
Mr. Netanyahu told a gathering of his
right-wing Likud party that the settlers are "good and loyal citizens
of the State of Israel." He said they would be allowed to "live normal
lives," a reference to permitting some construction in the settlements
to accommodate "natural growth."
The U.S. has demanded a
complete freeze on settlement expansion, including natural growth, but
Mr. Netanyahu is offering a compromise. Current construction of 2,500
homes in the West Bank will continue along with 455 additional new
housing units approved this week. But under a partial freeze, no
further construction would be approved.
At the same time, Mr.
Netanyahu said building will continue in disputed East Jerusalem, on
land the Palestinians claim for the capital of a future state.
"Jerusalem is the united capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and it will remain so forever," he said.
could complicate U.S. efforts to revive the peace process. The
Palestinians say they will not return to the negotiating table until
all settlement activity stops, both in the West Bank and East
The settlement issue will top the agenda when U.S.
Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrives here this weekend for
separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.