TEL AVIV – President Obama is poised to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze all Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem and to extend a 10-month construction freeze on the strategic West Bank that is set to expire in September, according to sources in Netanyahu’s office.
Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Washington later today for a meeting with Obama in the White House tomorrow.
According to sources in Netanyahu’s office, aides to the Israeli leader were made aware of Obama’s expected demands in recent planning meetings with U.S. officials.
Last November, under intense U.S. pressure, Netanyahu agreed to a temporary halt to new Jewish construction in the West Bank. The prime minister claimed at the time he would not extend the freeze beyond its 10-month deadline.
Sources in his office, however, tell WND Netanyahu will likely agree to an extension on the West Bank construction moratorium.
Just today, the Knesset legislation committee voted down a proposal that would have given the parliamentary body the power to veto an extension of the West Bank housing freeze.
Meanwhile, the sources in Netanyahu’s office said Obama will also press Israel to extend the West Bank freeze to the eastern sections of Jerusalem as a precondition for restarting talks with the Palestinian Authority.
Officially, Netanyahu has publicly rejected calls to ban Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem.
But WND reported in April that Netanyahu agreed to quietly halt all Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem as a “confidence-building gesture” toward the Palestinian Authority as demanded by the Obama administration, according to a top PA official.
On the ground, there have been almost no new building projects in eastern Jerusalem for more than four months.
Staff members of the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee reportedly have been instructed by Netanyahu’s office to halt their work. The order followed a public spat with the Obama administration after housing was approved for 1,600 new homes in an already-existing Jewish community during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel in March. At the time, the White House slammed the construction approval as an “insult” and an impediment to peace.
Last week, reports in the Israeli media claimed the Jerusalem municipality fast-tracked the approval of a new Jewish construction project in eastern Jerusalem. However, some analysts here contend the move may have been a bid by Netanyahu to bargain on the issue in his meeting with Obama.
While Obama has been demanding a Jewish construction freeze as a precondition for Israeli-Palestinian talks, the PA has not been asked to make any major gestures to Israel to jumpstart talks. The U.S. has not demanded the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Aside from the issue of West Bank and Jerusalem construction, Obama is also set to pressure Netanyahu to ease the blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, according to Israeli diplomatic sources.
Those sources said the Obama administration has been pressing hard on Israel to scale back its land blockade, demanding that dual-use materials such as metal and cement be allowed into Gaza.
Israel had blocked those materials, fearing they could be used to aid Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure. In the past few days, metal and cement have been allowed into Gaza.
Israel maintains a naval blockade on Gaza, fearing if it allows ships to reach the territory, Hamas will be able to transport weaponry for use against Israelis.
Israel and the international community numerous times have stopped ships loaded with weapons destined for Gaza.
Despite claims made by activists, Israel does not block humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israel allows a large number of trucks daily to enter Gaza with food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. Israel transfers monthly into Gaza tens of millions of dollars worth of Israeli shekels to ensure the flow of cash in the territory.
‘Obama harder on Israel than Arab states’
A senior Palestinian Authority negotiator told WND last week the U.S. has placed the most pressure on Israel to ease the Gaza blockade. The negotiator said the Obama administration has taken a harder line against Israel on the issue than even the European Union or Arab states.
“This attitude is emboldening Hamas,” said the PA negotiator.
The PA has been at odds with Hamas since the Islamist group seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
An Egyptian security official, meanwhile, said the Obama administration pressured his country to open the Egypt-Gaza border last month without first implementing a security agreement previously brokered by the Bush administration that calls for PA guards to be stationed alongside Hamas on the Gaza side of the border.
The Egyptian security official said that in discussions with the Obama administration, U.S. officials have been claiming they want to scale back the blockade of Gaza to generate popular opposition to Hamas.
The official said that according to this line of thinking, the White House said it believes Hamas uses the blockade as an excuse to rule from a position of a government under siege. The official said the White House surmises that once the blockage of Gaza is lifted and Hamas needs to take more responsibility in Gaza, the territory’s population will revolt against Hamas.
The official, however, called the White House position “naive.”
“The [Obama] administration is playing with fire,” said the Egyptian official.