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Netanyahu: U.S. pressure behind West Bank planning freeze

(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he suspended construction in West Bank settlements because of American pressure, an Israeli news site reported.

Netanyahu told a group of settler leaders that the activity of the planning council of Israel’s Civil Administration, the body responsible for authorizing construction in the West Bank, had been partially suspended because the United States demanded it, the news site nrg.co.il reported.

Netanyahu, who met Thursday night with mayors from 20 West Bank settlements, said the United States recently demanded that the Civil Administration not only refrain from issuing tenders for construction, but also freeze the activity of its planning committee altogether and not approve new projects that would later require tenders.

At the meeting, which took place at the Prime Minister’s Bureau, Netanyahu reportedly told the mayors he was “the defender of settlements,” adding that the he had resisted earlier Obama administration demands that “not a single brick be laid, not a single house be built.”

One of the visiting mayors told Netanyahu that not allowing the planning council to convene meant a de facto freeze on construction because “without its approval, the smallest actions cannot be completed, even not placing a lamp post above the guard post, much less preparing for the coming school year,” Nrg reported.

The issue of construction in settlements and in eastern Jerusalem has plagued the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed in April, nine months after their resumption as part of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to promote a comprehensive peace deal.

The Palestinian Authority has accused Israel of sabotaging talks by constructing beyond the Green Line, which marked Israel’s 1967 borders. Israel has argued that construction was limited to existing settlements, affecting 2 percent of the territory being negotiated and that Israeli and Palestinian construction are permissible under the 1993 Oslo Accords.

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