The Obama administration has reportedly back-down on its earlier demand for a full freeze of Jewish settlement activities, allowing Israel to continue building 2500 settlement units in the occupied Palestinian territories and linking the freeze to a pan-Arab normalization with Tel Aviv.
Israel’s mass-circulation daily Maariv reported on Wednesday, July 8, that the understanding was reached during a meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and US Mideast peace envoy George Michel in London.
It added that Barak conveyed the agreement to Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Deputy Premier and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor.
Under the agreement, Israel would be allowed to continue building up to 2500 housing units in settlements in the West Bank, according to the Israeli daily.
Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most popular newspaper, said Israel and the US were "close to an agreement on settlements."
It said the agreement would allow Israel to continue the construction of the 2500 housing units.
While in London, Barak told reporters that he presented to the Americans "the scope of current construction work, which from a practical point of view can’t be stopped".
Some 280,000 Jewish settlers live in more than 120 settlements scattered across the West Bank, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war.
The deal reportedly links the freeze of settlement building to initial steps by Arab states to normalize relations with Israel.
Maariv said this includes Syria and Lebanon.
A Saudi-sponsored Arab peace initiative, tabled since 2002, proposes full normalization of ties with Israel after its withdrawal of occupied Arab territories and establishment of a Palestinian state with Al-Quds as its capital.
Israel has repeatedly snubbed the overture.
Western officials said the US was moving in the direction of making allowances so Israel could finish off existing projects.
"This is a concession to avoid causing undue hardships on individuals," one of the officials told Haaretz, adding that discussions were still under way.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the United States and Israel have been trying to find common ground on the sensitive settlement issue, but he had no comment on the front-page report of a deal.
A US embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv also had no immediate comment.
The reported deal marks a u-turn for the declared position of the Obama administration.
Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have repeatedly asked Israel for a full freeze on settlement building, including the so-called natural growth.
Under the internationally-backed roadmap, Israel must freeze all settlement activities and dismantle 22 outposts constructed after March 2001.
The international community considers all Jewish settlements on the occupied Palestinian land illegal.
Palestinian leaders have said US-backed peace negotiations with Israel could not resume unless there was a complete halt to settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and Al-Quds.
In a damning report issued on Monday, July 5, the European Union said the Israeli settlements were "strangling the Palestinian economy" and perpetuating its dependence on donors.
(IslamOnline.net and News Agencies)