WASHINGTON - Sources in Washington told Ynet on Friday that the US was not surprised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to authorize construction plans in the West Bank, just ahead of a planned signing of a deal with the US that would freeze settlement activity.
According to the sources, during a meeting in New York last Wednesday Netanyahu's envoys Yitzhak Molcho and Mike Herzog informed special Mideast envoy George Mitchell of the PM's decision. They apparently told Mitchell that the approval of the construction of hundreds of housing units in the West Bank was necessary in order to soften Israel's rightist camp ahead of the expected settlement freeze.
Sources in Washington said Netanyahu's announcement would not impede the talks on a settlement freeze, adding that an agreement on the matter is expected to be reached during Netanyahu's meeting with Mitchell in Jerusalem, scheduled for next week.
It was further reported Friday that ahead of his visit to Israel Mitchell will meet with officials from the Arab states of the Persian Gulf to promote the normalization of ties with Jerusalem, which is considered one of the conditions for Israel's expected settlement freeze.
Also on Friday, The White House on Friday expressed "regret" regarding Netanyahu's decision to approve construction plans in the West Bank.
EU foreign ministers joined the US in expressing this sentiment, with Britain, Italy, and France all stating they believed the construction would impede peace talks.
"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop," said a statement by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
"We are working to create a climate in which negotiations can take place, and such actions make it harder to create such a climate," he stated. "We do appreciate Israel's stated intent to place limits on settlement activity and will continue to discuss this with the Israelis as these limitations are defined."
AP and Roni Sofer contributed to this report