Bowing to American and European pressure, Israel has announced a temporary halt in the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanahu said construction would be put on hold for ten months, in the hope of reviving the stalled peace process. However, the offer does not include projects on land around Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967.The announcement falls far short of Palestinian conditions for returning to the talks. President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded a complete halt to settlement expansion. The news comes amid speculation that Israel and Hamas were close to a deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. But the negotiations appear to have hit a snag: Israel has rejected the release of two Hamas commanders as part of an exchange involving hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Marwan Barghouti is serving multiple life terms for attacks on Israelis; Ibrahim Hamed led Hamas’ armed wing in the West Bank before his arrest.
Israel announces halt in settlements