Without making big announcements about it, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered in recent weeks a freeze on the publication of tender offers for new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Thus, without that Barack Obama publicly requesting it –not that he did not do it privately — Netanyahu gives the U.S. government leeway to advance their efforts to resume the peace process, which is in shambles since 2010.
In that same year, Netanyahu ordered a moratorium on the construction and expansion of settlements in the West Bank, but Palestinians only agreed to attend the negotiating table at the end of that term. The process was then stalled, and Israel resumed settlement expansion.
On his first visit as president to Israel on March 22, Obama avoided publicly calling for a moratorium on new settlements, which he did during his first term. In various speeches, U.S. President expressed his unwavering support for Israel and asked Netanyahu and his partners to make an effort to save the two-state solution.
The freeze on new tenders was announced by Peace Now: “Settlement construction was already underway and continues as before. What has stopped is the tender of new settlements, since Obama’s visit to Israel.
“Now they are stopping the new plans,” says Melanie Robbins, spokesman for that group. “It may be several reasons. Netanyahu may not want to be accused of interfering with U.S. efforts or is waiting for a more appropriate time to announce new construction,” she added.
It is true that in the past the Israeli Executive has used the announcement of new settlements to advance political or diplomatic interests. In November, a day after the General Assembly of the United Nations accepted Palestine as a nonmember observer state, Netanyahu announced it would allow the construction of 3,000 homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and that he would identified the land as suitable for construction of new residences in an area known as E-1, which greatly hindered the territorial continuity of a possible Palestinian state.
The new Secretary of State, John Kerry, is immersed in a process of resumption of the peace process, with constant visits to Jerusalem and Ramallah. This Wednesday in Rome he met with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who Netanyahu has commissioned the tutelage of negotiations with the Palestinians in their new government.
“What we need is action, not words. We monitor Israeli activities in the field on a daily basis, “said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “Israel has a clear obligation under international law to immediately end all settlement activity. We are not notified of any changes in Israel’s colonial plans, including the continued construction of dozens of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian state,” he said.
As revealed by the Israel Army Radio on Tuesday, Netanyahu recently ordered his minister of Housing, Uri Ariel, to stop the announcement of tenders for 3,000 new homes in the West Bank and Jerusalem. This at least until mid-June. Ariel, who lives in a settlement, belongs to the Jewish Home Party, which denies the two-state solution. In an interview with the same radio station, another member of that party, Ayelet Shaked, said the new projects are awaiting the signature of the prime minister.
The office of the prime minister avoided comment on the matter. Netanyahu is an official visit to China. Kerry will return to Israel in two weeks, to continue his push for new talks.