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Israel to Approve More Settlement Construction Before Freeze

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.

Palestinian 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.

Prime 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.