Netanyahu to Settlers: Keep Low Profile as Building Freeze Expires

Barak tells BBC there's a '50-50' chance a compromise will be reached on settlements, says 'historic' peace process has better chance of success.

The Prime Minister's Office approached MK Danny Danon (Likud), who is planning an event to mark the expiration of the 10-month settlement freeze on Sunday, as well as settler council leaders, asking them to avoid provocations and maintain a low profile in the media.

netanyahu - Tomer Appelbaum - Sept 12 2010
Tomer Appelbaum

The moratorium on Israeli construction in West Bank settlements, declared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November, was set to expire at midnight on Sunday. In the settlement of Revava, the countdown was set to begin Sunday afternoon: Thousands were expected to attend a rally with tractors, cement mixers and other equipment to broadcast to the world that construction in the territories was resuming.

Netanyahu's bureau also approached cabinet ministers requesting that they refrain from giving interviews on the topic. The Prime Minister's Office explained that the request meant to prevent inflammation of the delicate ongoing contacts between Israel, the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority surrounding the expiration of the freeze order.

Palestinian negotiators, among them Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have declared repeatedly that they would abandon recently relaunched direct peace talks if Israel were to resume construction on land they envision for a future state. Netanyahu has said that he does not plan to extend the settlement freeze beyond its original 10-month timeframe.

If the sides fail to strike a compromise, the midnight end of the building restrictions could also mark the end of the peace talks launched at the White House less than a month ago.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the BBC, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that there was a "50-50 chance" that Israel and the Palestinians would reach a compromise on the issue of construction in the settlements.

Barak said that there was a much better chance that the current peace process would succeed, despite the disagreement over the settlements. "We cannot afford to let this [peace] process, with historic potential, to be derailed by the fact that Israel doesn't have a way to stop this construction totally," he said.