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U.S. hails Israeli plan on West Bank settlement building

George Mitchell, the Obama administration's special Mideast envoy, welcomed an Israeli announcement Wednesday of a 10-month freeze for new construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. (Nov. 25)

He added: "The statement will not bring a breakthrough in the current stalemate -- quite the opposite. It will cause more tension, as no Palestinian leader can agree to exclude Jerusalem from any kind of settlement freeze."

Michael B. Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, said that Netanyahu's announcement is "unprecedented for any government, right, left or center, and it was made in the absence of any concessions by the Arab world, which the administration failed to achieve."

Geoffrey Aronson of the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, who closely tracks settlement activity, agreed that no Israeli prime minister had made a similar announcement but said the caveats rendered it virtually meaningless.

Netanyahu "is restraining an increase," he said. "The planning process can't stop. People can go to court, and there is no legal justification for them to stop the machinery of settlement expansion."

Aronson also said it would be difficult for the administration to track whether a real moratorium is in place.

Special correspondent Samuel Sockol in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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