Natasha Mozgovaya, Barak Ravid
September 17, 2010 - 12:00am

Defense Minister Ehud Barak held initial discussions with defense officials this week about the approaching end of the building freeze in the West Bank. He is trying to find ways to restrict settlement construction by the Defense Ministry, which is the de facto authority in the West Bank, without issuing a new order to suspend construction when the moratorium ends on September 26.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday urged Israel to extend the freeze. She told Channel 10 this would be "extremely useful" for making progress in negotiations with the Palestinians.

A senior official familiar with the debate on the construction freeze said new building in the West Bank could be delayed through legal measures for a long time. The ministry is also examining legal steps it can take to delay the construction of 2,000 housing units that had been approved before the construction freeze went into place.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at his meetings this week with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he would not extend the moratorium on construction. The official said that, instead of a new suspension order, which would require the approval of both the cabinet and the forum of seven ministers, Israel could reach quiet understandings with the Americans on limiting the construction for several months.

It is expected that such understandings would enable the Americans to persuade the Palestinian Authority not to quit the negotiations, the official said.

Barak is due to leave Saturday night for Washington, where he will meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor General James Jones. He is also scheduled to meet with Clinton.

Clinton, who left for Jordan after meeting with Abbas yesterday in Ramallah, spoke at an appearance with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, where she praised the Arab peace initiative as an excellent document.

She said she was not sure many Arabs or Israelis had actually read the Arab peace plan, which was adopted by the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002, explaining that the plan "holds out the very promise we seek."

The initiative proposes a recognition of Israel on the part of all Arab states if it pulls out of the territories it seized in 1967, including East Jerusalem.

Clinton, who met Abbas in the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah, yesterday also suggested extending the partial freeze for even a limited amount of time.

"Where we sit now it would be useful for some extension, it would be extremely useful," Clinton said in the interview. "I don't think a limited extension would undermine the process going forward if there were a decision agreed to by both parties." Clinton added that the United States believes it is necessary to create a good "atmosphere" for the renewed talks and that, like Netanyahu, she regretted that negotiations had not begun sooner.

In a separate interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour in Jerusalem, Clinton said hard work was under way "to make sure there remains a conducive atmosphere to constructive talks."

Clinton held talks in Jordan yesterday with King Abdullah, wrapping up the round of negotiations that began in Egypt on Tuesday.


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