Early Sunday morning, hours after President Shimon Peres appeared to declare his support for a freeze on settlement construction, his media adviser retracted the statement, saying the president hadn’t understood the question.
Peres, in France for a state visit, told a group of journalists that a moratorium on Israeli construction in the West Bank would help Jerusalem’s standing in the international arena.
He was responding to an Israel Radio reporter, who asked whether the new government would institute such a policy.
Hours later, however, the president’s media adviser, Ayelet Frisch, said that Peres was replying to a general question about the peace process and was not advocating a settlement freeze.
“President Shimon Peres did not hear the question about a settlement freeze and his reply was not related to that issue,” Frisch said, according to News1.
“I was standing by the president, recording the conversation, and did not hear the end of the question about a settlement freeze,” she added. “The president did not hear it either, and was replying only to a question about the peace process.”
Frisch said that if Peres did support a settlement freeze, he would come out and say it directly, “as he does with other political issues.”
A general freeze in Israeli construction in the West Bank has long been a Palestinian demand ahead of returning to negotiations and is a move generally supported by the West and the Israeli left.
A 10-month partial freeze initiated by the Netanyahu government early in its previous term expired in 2010 after the Palestinians refused to return to the negotiations. Netanyahu had demanded that the freeze go hand in hand with the Palestinian Authority officially recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, effectively surrendering the demand for a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.