Israel to OK new West Bank settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will approve hundreds of new housing units in West Bank settlements before slowing settlement construction, two of his aides said Friday in Jerusalem.

The moves comes as an apparent snub of the U.S.'s public demand for a total settlement freeze. The White House expressed regret Friday at the Israeli plan, calling it counter-productive to launching peace negotiations.

The aides, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, also said Netanyahu would be willing to consider a temporary freeze in settlement construction, but their definition of a freeze would include building the new units and finishing some 2,500 others currently under construction.

The settlement suspension also would not include east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope to make their future capital.

The U.S. has a set a high public bar for a freeze, saying repeatedly that all settlement activity on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state must stop, without exception. However, Israel appeared to gain some wiggle room in recent weeks as the sides discussed the details of a would-be settlement freeze.

The information also appeared in major Israeli media Friday morning. It was unclear if Washington had prior knowledge of the Israeli announcement, which had the potential to undermine U.S. credibility in the Arab world.


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