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Israeli Cabinet Rejects Full Settlement Freeze

Israel says it is moving toward, what it calls, a compromise with the United States on the controversial issue of settlement expansion. But less than a complete end to construction may not be enough to revive the peace process with the Palestinians

Brushing off a reprimand from Washington, Israeli Cabinet ministers lined up behind a plan to approve construction of hundreds of new housing units in West Bank settlements. But in a nod to the United States, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would then declare a freeze on additional settlement projects.

To soften the blow to hawks in his right-wing government, Mr. Netanyahu will also allow current construction of 2,500 homes in the West Bank to continue.

Cabinet Minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party says it is a reasonable compromise.

Yishai said a "strategic suspension" of settlement construction is necessary to preserve Israeli ties with Washington.

Cabinet Minister Stas Misezhnikov of the ultra-nationalist Israel Is Our Home Party also supports the partial freeze.

Misezhnikov said the Cabinet must back the prime minister in his negotiations with the Americans. But he also said any settlement freeze must be temporary with a clear exit strategy.

The United States, which sees the settlements as an obstacle to peace, is less enthusiastic. On Friday, the White House said Israel's plan to approve additional West Bank construction before the freeze was "inconsistent" with U.S. efforts to revive peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agrees.

Mr. Abbas says any partial settlement freeze is unacceptable and the Palestinians will not return to the negotiating table until all Israeli construction in the West Bank stops.