An Israeli flag is seen in front of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Bernat Armangue/AP/PA
West Bank

Israel cancels plans to build 20,000 settler homes in the West Bank

Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu said the plan had created “unnecessary confrontation with the international community” after the US expressed “deep concern”.

Updated 10.50pm

ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu late this evening cancelled plans to build 20,000 new settler homes in the West Bank, after US and Palestinian criticism of the project.

Netanyahu ordered the Israeli housing minister Uri Ariel “to reconsider all of the steps for evaluating planning potential (of the settler homes) that he distributed without any advance coordination”, a statement from his office said.

Netanyahu told Ariel the plan was:

An action that creates an unnecessary confrontation with the international community at a time when we are making an effort to persuade elements in the international community to reach a better deal with Iran.

The announcement was made after Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas warned the construction plans, announced earlier by Israel, would prompt him to declare the peace process over if they went ahead.

Washington had also expressed “deep concern” over the plans. “We are deeply concerned by this latest report,” said US State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki. “We were surprised by this announcement and are currently seeking further explanation from the government of Israel.”

Psaki emphasized that Washington had not been briefed in advance by Israel about the settlement plan.

She repeated the long-standing US diplomatic position on settlements – a position reaffirmed last week during Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to the Mideast – that “we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.”

Psaki said the United States has “called on both sides to take steps to create a positive atmosphere for the negotiations,” which, with Kerry’s mediation, re-launched in July.

During his visit to the Mideast last week, Kerry rejected statements from Israeli leaders that the settlement announcements were in keeping with tacit “understandings” between the two sides linked to the release of 52 veteran Palestinian prisoners since August.

- © AFP 2013.

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