Netanyahu to Announce Construction Moratorium

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JERUSALEM, Israel - On Wednesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will announce a 10-month moratorium on construction in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), following a vote by the Security Cabinet Wednesday afternoon.

"In the international circumstances that have been created, this step will promote Israel's broad national interests," Netanyahu told cabinet members.

"This is neither simple nor easy, but it has many more advantages than disadvantages. It allows us to place a simple fact before the world: The government of Israel wants to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians [and] is taking practical steps in order to do so and is very serious in its intentions to promote peace," he said.

The latest effort to bring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table excludes Jerusalem neighborhoods so its chances of success are at best questionable.

Up till now, Netanyahu has promised that Israel would not expand existing settlements nor would it start any new homes within these communities. But some 3,000 housing units already under construction would be completed.

This most recent effort, coordinated with the Obama administration, comes with built-in deterrents to be imposed on Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria.

Among other things, it criminalizes "illegal" Jewish construction, imposes sanctions on local community council heads, bans and arrests youth protesting the freeze, and provides for speedy demolition of any new construction.

This, the prime minister told German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Monday, will pave the way for an "historic agreement with the Palestinians."

But even before Netanyahu makes the announcement at a press conference on Wednesday evening, PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad and senior negotiator Saeb Erekat rejected it.

"What has changed to make something that was not acceptable a week or 10 days ago [acceptable now]?" Fayyad asked reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

"The exclusion of Jerusalem is a very serious problem for us," he said.

While Fayyad is supposedly referring to predominantly Arab neighborhoods in the eastern sector of the city, which the PA hopes to make its future capital, Israel's announcement last week of 900 new housing units in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood - with no Arab residents - was "unacceptable" to the PA.

Former Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval called the PA's reaction over the building in Gilo "strange and bizarre" since the neighborhood is not in east Jerusalem, it's more than 30 years old and there have never been any Arab residents there.

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