PM reportedly agreed to limit settlement building during talks

Netanyahu to bring construction cap, along with referendum and prisoner release, to Cabinet on Sunday, but poll shows scant support among public

Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to a new recruit at an army base Thursday. (photo credit: Zvika Tishler/Pool/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to a new recruit at an army base Thursday. (photo credit: Zvika Tishler/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly committed to cap settlement building during peace talks with the Palestinians to 1,000 homes within existing settlement blocs.

The Haaretz report came as Minister Yuval Steinitz, considered close to Netanyahu, told the British Telegraph that Israel was prepared to make painful concessions for peace, but a deal would not pass muster with the public unless they are “totally convinced that what we are getting in return is genuine, enduring peace and real security.”

Netanyahu plans to bring the issue of holding a national referendum on a peace deal to the Cabinet on Sunday, when he will also ask his ministers to approve the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners, part of the deal to coax the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Palestinians had also demanded a total freeze in settlement building, a measure some officials claimed US Secretary of State John Kerry told Ramallah that Israel had committed to.

However, according to three unnamed senior Israeli officials cited in the Haaretz report, Israel instead promised Kerry to only approve 1,000 homes in the next two months within existing settlement blocs that many in Jerusalem contend will remain in the country as part of any peace deal with the Palestinians.

An original request to impose a full moratorium on settlement building was dismissed by Israel from the get-go, according to the report, as Netanyahu did not want to repeat a similar building freeze to that of 2010, when the Palestinians still refused to negotiate until the very end, despite the construction stoppage.

Netanyahu is expected to announce the 1,000 new housing tenders at the Cabinet meeting on Sunday. Since an official freeze will not be in place, building on non-government land can continue under certain conditions, though the Defense Ministry and other planning bodies that give building approval will be asked to deny those requests, according to the article.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are expected to kick off next week, Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters Thursday.

Steinetz, the Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister, told the Telegraph that coming to a two-state solution, even involving painful territorial concessions, is the only solution.

“At the end of the day, we will have such a situation. It’s going to be difficult to achieve it — there are many obstacles in the way — but I think there is no other solution to the problem,” he said.

He added that he believed Israelis would approve a peace deal if it went to a referendum, though only if it provided real peace.

“We will probably have to make very serious territorial concessions. And the Palestinians will have to make also both territorial concessions — because there will be settlement blocs — but more important still, they will have to recognize the very existence of the Jewish people and the Jewish state,” continued Steinitz.

A poll by Haaretz published on Wednesday showed 55 percent of Israelis were likely to approve a peace deal, though the survey did not give parameters of a hypothetical peace deal.

An Israel Hayom poll released Friday, though, shows that 54.5 percent of Israelis would be against a deal that involved territorial concessions and slight changes to the 1967 borders.

The issue of a referendum has become a divisive one in Jerusalem, where Minister Naftali Bennett has said his Jewish Home party will only approve the state’s upcoming budget in return for a law requiring a national referendum on relinquishing land in the West Bank. Other politicians, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, have said a referendum undermines the Knesset’s governing powers. The measure, however, is expected to pass the Cabinet easily.

The issue of releasing prisoners, though, may prove a tougher sell for Netanyahu on Sunday. Israel reportedly agreed to release some 80 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jail since before the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, a number of them convicted for violent terror activity that killed dozens of Israelis.

A poll published by Israel Hayom Friday shows that 84.9 percent of Israelis are against releasing prisoners “with blood on their hands,” in exchange for opening talks, while 9.4 percent support releasing the prisoners.

The poll also found that 52.7 percent of Israelis support a two-state solution on paper, while 36.8 percent are against and the rest undecided.

The poll was conducted on July 24 with 500 respondents and carries a margin of error of plus-minus 4.4 percent.

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