Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu departed Monday afternoon for a four-day visit to Europe. He will meet with Special U.S. Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell on Wednesday in London to determine Israel's future construction policy in Judea and Samaria.
While in London, he is scheduled to meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. From there he will fly to Germany for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
On Sunday night, the Prime Minister assessed that talks with the Palestinian Authority will resume by the end of next month. During Netanyahu’s absence, Minister for Regional Development Silvan Shalom will stand in as Prime Minister.
An official from the Prime Minister’s Office said, “Israel will not completely freeze settlements within the framework of natural growth. Rather, residents will be allowed to maintain a normal life.” The official emphasized that the needs of residents of Judea and Samaria must be maintained.
Netanyahu stated before boarding his flight that he expects a certain level of progress in contacts with the United States. However, he does not expect a breakthrough. The speculation is that both Jerusalem and Washington are expected to agree to a construction freeze within Judea and Samaria, at least for a year.
Nonetheless, no new housing projects within Judea and Samaria have been approved since the end of the Olmert administration. Relations between Israel and the U.S. were tense earlier in the year as American officials pushed Israel to forbid Jews to build in Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem, while Israeli officials insisted that building be allowed to continue. Freezing construction in Judea and Samaria communities affects a total of about 350,000 Jews.
The Prime Minister is expected to express his dissatisfaction with an absolute construction freeze and will demand the allowance of natural growth, which remains a bone of contention with the Obama administration.