Under pressure from the United States, Israel is sending mixed signals
on the controversial issue of West Bank settlements.
Israel plans to
approve the construction of hundreds of new homes in the West Bank
before agreeing to a U.S. demand for a freeze on settlement expansion.
In addition, Israel would finish some 2,500 other housing units
currently under construction.
"We have been in continuous
discussions with the U.S. administration in the effort to reach a
compromise that is reasonable and sustainable and those efforts are
ongoing," said Israeli spokesman Ron Dermer.
But Israel's view
of a compromise falls far short of U.S. President Barack Obama's demand
for a complete freeze on settlement expansion. The United States sees
the settlements as an obstacle to peace, and the issue has strained
relations between Washington and Israel since right-wing Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu took office five months ago.
officials say there is no settlement freeze, and the only thing Israel
has frozen is the peace process. Palestinian spokeswoman Diana Buttu
says the ball is now in America's court.
"I hope that given that
President Obama has expressed enthusiasm that he will begin to put into
place some controls in terms of what it is Israel is doing, put into
place pressure on Israel. Without that, then I don't think we're going
to see anything concrete, anything different," said Buttu.
Minister Netanyahu is walking a tightrope, trying to please both the
U.S. and his nationalist coalition partners who support Jewish
settlement in all the biblical Land of Israel. If he goes too far
toward appeasing the U.S., the hawks could topple his government, and
therefore Mr. Netanyahu is trying to find middle ground.