Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing with efforts to advance compromise formulas that will win support in the Obama administration on the issue of settlement construction. Ahead of the visit to Washington by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Netanyahu is planning to propose that increased construction in the settlements be allowed for "natural growth.", Haaretz reported
This is the latest idea in addition to the possibility of a temporary hiatus in construction, as reported yesterday by Haaretz.
During his tour of Europe, Netanyahu has so far heard criticism on the issue of the settlements from leaders considered "friends" - starting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and yesterday from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Netanyahu and his aides are trying to formulate a compromise solution that will appeal to the U.S. administration. The proposal that the prime minister is now considering, which Ariel Sharon had previously put forward, is to carry out a "territorial freeze" to settlement activity. In other words, the settlements will not expand onto more territory in an effort to meet the growing needs of settler population without leading to new "facts on the ground," which would stand as an obstacle to the creation of a future Palestinian state.
Under this proposal, the only new structures in settlements would be for public functions, like kindergartens or schools.
"It is possible to resolve the territorial aspect of settlement construction," Netanyahu said yesterday following his meeting with Sarkozy. "It is possible to find a formula but this requires good will of all sides. What is important is to enable people to live normal lives and that is what I am explaining to the Americans."
However, sources close to Netanyahu have said that they are uncertain whether the Americans will make do with a "territorial freeze" or whether the Obama administration will insist on a "demographic freeze" as well.
Another option that was reported yesterday in Haaretz is a "temporary freeze" of settlement construction, except for projects that have already begun.
"The main consideration is how long the freeze will remain in place and whether this may be a precedent that will transform the temporary hiatus into a permanent one," a source close to Netanyahu said.
Following consultations between Netanyahu and Barak, a planned meeting with U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell in Paris was postponed until after Barak returns from Washington.
The Defense Minister is hoping to put forth a package deal with the Obama administration that will incorporate the recent easing of travel restrictions for the Palestinians.
"If we have significant progress in talks with the Palestinians, the issue of the settlements will become less central," Barak said.