Israel PM Netanyahu denies pledge to Biden of settlement freeze
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has denied reports that he promised US President Joe Biden to halt settlement construction in the occupied West Bank this year in a bid to mend ties with Washington.
Reports emerged on Monday that the Israeli prime minister made a commitment to the US president that no more illegal settlements would be built in the Palestinian territory this year.
This pledge was also an effort to appease Saudi Arabia, Haaretz reported, with Riyadh so far refusing to normalise relations with Israel in the absence of a sovereign Palestinian state.
Netanyahu's office swiftly denied such commitments were made to Biden, in a statement issued to right-wing Jewish groups, seemingly fearing backlash.
Religious media outlets ruled out any settlement construction freeze now or in the future, according to Haaretz, but Netanyahu’s staff and journalists in Israel and abroad were told otherwise in separate briefings.
Netanyahu is facing a flurry of crises at home as his plans to continue with settlement construction and move forward with a highly controversial judicial overhaul plan cause division in Israel and deepens a rift with the Biden administration.
Other Western nations have also called on the Israeli government to halt settlement construction, which not only infringes on territory Palestinians want as part of their future state but has also seen a spate of attacks on local Palestinian towns and villages by extremists.
Since January, Israel has advanced 12,855 settler housing units across the West Bank, according to Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now. This is the highest number the group has recorded since it started tracking such activity in 2012.
Israeli settlements built on land Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war are illegal under international law.