Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday declared a moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in what he says is a bid to restart the stalled peace process. Palestinians have criticized the plan in part because it does not include a halt to building in East Jerusalem.
After meeting with his security cabinet, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel will not issue new permits for construction in settlements in the West Bank for 10 months. He called it an important step toward peace.
"This is a far-reaching and painful step. We authorized it because of our deep desire to move forward toward peace," he said. "We hope that this decision will help launch meaningful negotiations to reach an historic peace agreement that will finally end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians," he said.
Even before the official announcement, the Palestinians rejected Israel's move because it does not include East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordanian control, following Israel's victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The Jewish state annexed that part of the city in a move that was not recognized by the international community.
Earlier this week, on a visit to Argentina, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stepped up his campaign to put international pressure on Israel to stop building on lands that Palestinians claim as their own.
Mr. Abbas urged President Barack Obama and leaders of other nations that support Israel to press the Jewish state to end its construction of settlements on occupied lands.
Mr. Netanyahu has in the past offered to restrain settlement growth, but Wednesday's announcement was the first time he set a clear timeframe.
The Israeli leader said his plan will allow for what his government calls "natural growth," which includes completing settlement construction that is already underway. The building of schools and places of worship that will enable settlers to live what Mr. Netanyahu describes as "normal lives" will also continue.
On the issue of Jerusalem, he said there will be no change to Israel's existing policy.
"Regarding Jerusalem, our sovereign capital, our position is well-known. We do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital," he said.
Palestinians say the settlements - home to about 300,000 Israelis - hinder the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
Israel had continued to expand settlements in defiance of U.S. calls for it to exercise restraint. On Wednesday, Washington praised Mr. Netanyahu's announcement.