A senior Israel official said that the government will indeed stop its much-contested settlement building as a step toward peace with the Palestinians — but very quietly, without fanfare or policy order.
"There won't be a de jure freeze," the unnamed official said, according to Israeli news website Ynet. "But quietly, quietly, construction outside the major blocs will be halted in order to resume negotiations. Israel will not make an official declaration but the move will be carried out on the sly as part of understandings between Israel and the U.S."
The statements comes as Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped a trip to the Middle East, including meetings with key Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with few noticeable advancements in recent U.S. attempts to broker a peace agreement.
If true, the construction drawdown is a sizeable development. Palestinian leadership has long insisted that any peace talks start with an immediate end to Israeli settlement construction — a demand Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has steadfastly refused.
This quiet deal could prove a win-win for a complicated situation.
"It will take a while," the senior official said. "But eventually, talks will resume. Now they are looking for a solution that will allow [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas to save face. There is a great deal of American pressure and Netanyahu is very interested in resuming talks."
Publicly, the mantra differs. Senior officials in Jerusalem were putting out official statements as late as Wednesday that Mr. Netanyahu told Mr. Kerry that Israel would not be making any first steps to boost Palestinians' confidence in a peace agreement, Ynet reported.
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