National Security Brief: Israel Quietly Halts Settlement Expansion

(Credit: White House)

An Israeli settlement watchdog group has said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has quietly halted new building projects in the occupied West Bank in what Reuters describes as “an apparent bid to help U.S. efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.”

“We see there have been no new construction tenders issued for the West Bank since President Barack Obama visited (in March),” Yariv Oppenheimer, head of Peace Now, told Reuters.

While Israeli officials are tight-lipped about the data, a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remained cautious.

“A freeze in settlement construction within the 1967 borders and especially Jerusalem are the basis of starting any genuine and serious negotiations,” he said. “We must hear Israel state this policy officially.”

However, the New York Times reported back in March that Abbas “is so eager to return to peace talks with the Israelis that he may soften his demand that Israel’s president publicly pledge to halt construction of new settlements on Palestinian land before such negotiations can resume.”

President Obama said then that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are an obstacle in the peace process. “I’ve been clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leadership that … we do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace,” he said.

Peace Now also cautioned that it is just analyzing data and that there may not actually be any settlement freeze in place. “The construction on the ground continues at the same pace, and plans continue to be promoted,” it said.

In other news:

  • The U.N. says that there are now 4.25 million internally displaced persons inside Syria and more than one million who have fled the country. Meanwhile Secretary of State John Kerry is in Moscow in a push to find a solution to the situation in Syria and the chief U.N. WMD inspector for Syria said that time is running out in the hunt for alleged chemical weapons use there.
  • Reuters reports: Iran appears to be pressing ahead in using some of its most sensitive nuclear material to make reactor fuel, diplomats said on Monday, a step that could help buy time for diplomacy between Tehran and world powers.
  • Reuters also reports: A new jihadi magazine set up by militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan has appealed to Muslims around the world to come up with technology to hack into or manipulate drones, describing this as one of their most important priorities.
  • The New York Times reports: The Obama administration on Monday explicitly accused China’s military of mounting attacks on American government computer systems and defense contractors, saying one motive could be to map “military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.”