The verbal sparring over construction in the settlements has shown no signs of abating. A senior official said on Saturday night that despite the decidedly unambiguous terms states by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israel will continue to build in the larger settlement blocs, in communities adjacent to the security fence and in the neighborhoods on Jerusalem's outskirts.
Another official sought to stress however that Israel was working to "get the message across that we're willing to work towards a solution, one that culminates in the creation of Palestinian state with limited authorities." The official added that the restrictions would mostly pertain to security issues. "There can't be another army between the sea and Jordan."
US President Barack Obama's special envoy on the Middle East, George Mitchell, will be arriving in Israel this week for a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as Washington moves to restart the peace negotiations.
Mitchell is expected to build a more permanent base for himself in the region, one that will allow him to monitor the building in the settlements and dismantling of the illegal outposts in the West Bank. The US envoy will also increase pressure on Israel to ease restrictions on the Palestinian population and open the Gaza Strip's border crossings.
"There have been conflicts with various administrations, certainly over the issue of the settlements," a senior political official told Ynet. "There are differences of opinion, we do not want to exacerbate them. We are trying to see where the current administration is headed."
Another source said that construction in the larger blocs would continue. "There is broad public approval in Israel for continued building, including for 'natural growth.'"
Israel has offered the Americans to form a joint body that would be tasked with overseeing construction in the settlements to ensure that the building does not go beyond the existing limits of any given community, and that no new settlements are being built.
Clinton dismissed on Friday arguments that Israel and the Bush administration had an understanding regarding the settlement blocs. Dov Weisglass, chief of staff to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has recently said that the Bush administration and Israel had an understanding under which Israel could continue to build within settlements as long as their existing boundaries remained the same.
Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to this report