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Netanyahu denies agreeing to construction freeze at Jordan summit

Following a security summit with the Palestinians, Amman and Washington claimed that Israel had committed to curb building in Judea and Samaria.

Construction works in Efrat in Judea and Samaria, Oct. 25, 2021. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90.
Construction works in Efrat in Judea and Samaria, Oct. 25, 2021. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied on Sunday that Jerusalem had agreed to halt building activities in Judea and Samaria as part of understandings reached earlier in the day at a security summit with the Palestinians in Jordan.

“Construction in Judea and Samaria will continue in accordance with the original planning and building schedule, without any changes. There is not and will not be any freeze,” said Netanyahu.

The denial came after the Jordanian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that in addition to Israel and the Palestinian Authority having affirmed the need to “commit to de-escalation on the ground” and work toward a “just and lasting peace,” the Netanyahu government had consented to curbing “settlement” approvals for four to six months.

The statement also said that the two sides had reiterated their commitment to preserving the status quo on the Temple Mount and emphasized the Hashemite Kingdom’s custodianship.

A communique released by the U.S. State Department following the summit also stated that Israel had agreed to halt construction in Judea and Samaria.

“The government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority confirmed their joint readiness and commitment to immediately work to end unilateral measures for a period of 3-6 months. This includes an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for 4 months and to stop authorization of any outposts for 6 months,” read the statement.

By contrast, the Israeli statement about the meeting did not mention the Temple Mount and said that no decisions on new construction in Judea and Samaria “were expected in the coming months.”

National Security Council Director Tzachi Hanegbi, who headed the Israeli delegation to Jordan, similarly said that there was no change in Jerusalem’s policy.

“In the coming months, the State of Israel will authorize nine outposts and approve 9,500 new housing units in Judea and Samaria. There is no construction freeze or change in the status quo on the Temple Mount; neither is there any restriction on IDF activity,” he said.

Hanegbi appears to have been referring to the Israeli Security Cabinet’s unanimous decision earlier this month to legalize nine communities in Judea and Samaria, in response to a deadly terrorist attack in Jerusalem.

Moreover, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also holds the post of minister in the Defense Ministry and has been tasked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with overseeing the Civil Administration, has announced plans to construct some additional 10,000 homes in Judea and Samaria.

While these plans are expected to go through, it remains unclear whether Jerusalem has agreed to postpone authorization of any additional housing projects.

Netanyahu last week said that Israel would not advance new plans to legalize outposts in Judea and Samaria for the next few months, without specifying a precise time frame.

He emphasized that the move does not apply to the Security Cabinet decision.

Netanyahu’s announcement partially confirmed reports that Israel has made a series of concessions as part of an informal U.S.-mediated deal with the Palestinians to reduce tensions ahead of Ramadan, which will begin on March 22 or 23.

The Walla news site reported that under U.S. pressure, Israel had agreed to postpone for several months the approval of additional construction beyond the Green Line, delay planned demolitions of Palestinian homes built without permits in eastern Jerusalem, curb evictions of Palestinians in illegal housing, and reduce the number of IDF raids in Palestinian cities.

Israel will also significantly curb Jewish access to the Temple Mount during Ramadan, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

“I have no idea what they talked about or didn’t talk about in Jordan. I heard about this unnecessary conference from the media just like everyone. But one thing I do know: There will be no freeze on construction and development in the settlements, not even for one day (this is in my authority),” said Smotrich in response to Sunday’s reports.

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