Barak open on Israel settlement freeze pre US trip
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak left open the possibility on Sunday of a limited freeze on building in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Reuters reported.
In comments to reporters, Barak stopped short of denying a report in Israel's biggest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, that he would propose a three-month halt to construction starts in settlements but allow current building work to continue.
"The matter mentioned in the headlines has not been finalised," Barak told reporters ahead of talks this week with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell in the United States.
"The issue of the settlements, as part of a broad range of issues, is part of our dialogue with the Americans," Barak said.
An Israeli official called the report "speculative". Other officials said in any case, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government had not issued any tenders for new construction in West Bank settlements since taking office in March.
U.S. President Barack Obama, in a rare rift between Israel and the United States, is pushing for a building freeze in a bid to spur the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
But U.S. officials said Washington was considering making allowances for some structures nearing completion.
Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Barak would propose that a three-month moratorium would not cover some 2,000 buildings under construction in West Bank enclaves. Work on homes for Jews in Arab East Jerusalem also would continue.