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Israel denies Palestinian claim that PM agreed to settlement freeze

Conflicting reports over message conveyed from Jerusalem by Kerry to Abbas amid efforts to end terror wave

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Berlin, October 22, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Berlin, October 22, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Israel on Saturday evening denied Palestinian claims that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed not to issue “new building plans” at West Bank settlements, as part of efforts to calm tensions and end a wave of Palestinian terror attacks.

According to Palestinian sources quoted by the Ynet news site, US Secretary of State John Kerry relayed this pledge from Netanyahu to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas when they met in Amman on Saturday. In a similar report, the Al-Araby al-Jadeed website said Netanyahu had agreed to “a silent freeze” in settlement building, but would continue to issue new building tenders in order not to destroy his coalition.

An Israeli official quickly denied any government commitment to freezing settlements, according to the Israeli Walla news site. A similar denial was reported by Israeli newspaper Maariv, which quoted a senior Israeli official as saying that, “there is no commitment of this nature.”

Responding to various steps reportedly promised by Netanyahu to help calm tensions, Al-Araby al-Jadeed quoted Abbas saying that “if the Israeli moves are serious, it will be possible to make progress.”

At a press conference two weeks ago, called to assure Israelis that the government was capable of thwarting the ongoing wave of Palestinian terrorism, Netanyahu said it was “common sense” for him not to risk alienating parts of the international community by announcing new settlement building in response to the terror surge, as many of his right-wing coalition colleagues have demanded. Nobody needed to teach him lessons about the value of settlements, he declared, but his prime obligation was to the security of Israel’s citizens.

On Tuesday, furthermore, Netanyahu announced sorrowfully that settlement construction had slowed on his watch, compared to previous prime ministers, to an annual average of 1,500 new units.

In Jordan on Saturday, Kerry announced that Israel and Jordan had agreed on various steps aimed at reducing tensions at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The steps include round-the-clock video monitoring and Israel reaffirming Jordan’s special and historic role as custodian of the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary, Kerry said.

Netanyahu was to announce details of the measures later Saturday, Kerry said.

Ten Israelis have been killed and dozens injured in a string of Palestinian terror attacks since the beginning of the month. At least 50 Palestinians have also died, many while carrying out stabbing attacks on Israelis, and others in clashes with security forces.

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