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Mixed Reaction to Israeli Announcement of Partial Settlement Freeze

There has been mixed reaction to Israel's announcement of a partial freeze on settlement expansion. Jewish settlers and their allies say it is a catastrophe, while Palestinians describe it as a publicity stunt.

Israeli hawks are furious after the right-wing government announced that there have been no new settlement projects in the West Bank since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office five months ago. Construction already in progress is continuing, but that is little comfort for parliamentarian Arieh Eldad of the National Union party.

"I do not need a leader of the right to adopt the policy of the left," said Eldad.

Israeli officials say Mr. Netanyahu's concession is aimed at healing a rift between Israel and the United States. Ties grew strained after Mr. Netanyahu rejected repeated demands by the Obama administration for a complete freeze on settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The prime minister's traditional allies on the right, like Eldad, say Mr. Netanyahu compromised on the Zionist goal of settling all the biblical Land of Israel in order to appease the U.S.

"The fact that he gave up on the main issue, it's Israel's worst nightmare," said Eldad.

While Mr. Netanyahu is willing to compromise on West Bank construction, he has not budged on building in disputed East Jerusalem, which he describes as the eternal and undivided capital of the State of Israel. But the Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and they say Mr. Netanyahu has not gone far enough.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Israel is trying to fool the U.S. because current construction of thousands of Jewish homes has not been frozen and will continue for years.

"What we're worried is that Mr. Netanyahu will have a bypass road saying, 'Okay, I have some settlements, housing units, under construction.' So if the Americans are going to close their eyes on this, it means it's going to take another two governments after Netanyahu to complete," he said.

The White House, on the other hand, reacted positively to the Israeli announcement. U.S. President Barack Obama said he is encouraged by what he is seeing on the ground.