Atilla Somfalvi
August 31, 2010 - 12:00am,7340,L-3946523,00.html

Just hours before he takes off for the US for the start of direct talks with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received surprising political reinforcement from Shas even as it remains unclear how he will maneuver around the continuation of the West Bank settlement building moratorium demanded by the US and the Palestinians.

Ynet learned that Shas is prepared to allow Netanyahu "breathing space" after the building freeze expires not to stick to his original promise to renew construction throughout the West Bank.

Shas officials close to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said that the party's spiritual leader supports direct talks. As such, he is even prepared to agree to quietly not renewing construction in the settlements.
However, the rabbi has demanded that construction in all of Jerusalem be immediately renewed as soon as the 10-month moratorium expires, including in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem such as Pisgat Ze'ev, Ramot, Naveh Yaakov, and the haredi settlement blocks beyond the Green Line like Kiryat Sefer and Beitar.

Those who are well acquainted with Yosef's positions said Monday that his recent inflammatory statements against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians resulted from frustration and anger at the Palestinians' demand that building be completely frozen, even in areas clear to all sides involved in the negotiations will remain in Israel in any final-status agreement.

'Rabbi wants to see building in all these areas'

Shas officials said that for the past 10 months Netanyahu had prevented the issuing of building permits in Jerusalem as well, effectively freezing construction in Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern part of the capital.

"The rabbi (Yosef) wants to see building in all these areas," one Shas member said.

Government officials estimate that the PM will wait until the last week of September to assess the progress made in the direct talks, and then decide whether to resume construction in the West Bank.

They assume he will choose not to take any measure that may lead to the collapse of negotiations, meaning he will not authorize the complete resumption of construction in the West Bank.

The construction moratorium expires on September 26.

"If the atmosphere (during the talks) is positive, Netanyahu will be able to extend the moratorium," a senior government official said.


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