[Thursday, December 19, 2013] The Israeli Government of Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected an American request to freeze settlement construction and expansion activities, in the occupied West Bank and occupied Jerusalem, as part of the effort to ensure the continuation of direct peace talks.Israeli sources have reported that the U.S. administration has asked Tel Aviv to refrain from announcing new projects in its illegal settlements after the third phase of release of Palestinian detainees, by the end of this month.

The White House stated that the issue is of a great concern to the Palestinians, and could lead to toppling direct political talks between Tel Aviv and Ramallah.

Talking to the Likud party conference on Wednesday evening, Netanyahu said that his administration is “committed to building and expanding settlements”, and that Tel Aviv “will not be pressured into halting its settlement activities”.

“We are building, and working in full gear”, he stated, “We will build and develop, everywhere, including in the settlements.

Israeli sources said that Tel Aviv is acting “according to agreements reached by Washington”.

The Israeli decision followed a letter sent by the European Union demanding Tel Aviv to stop its settlement activities, particularly amidst the release of the third phase of veteran Palestinian detainees on December 29.

Israel’s settlement activities are illegal under International Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory.

Settlements and the apartheid wall are devastating the Palestinian economy, and have turned the Palestinian territories into isolated cantons, separating the residents from each other and their lands, and are blocking geographical contiguity between Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank.

Tel Aviv refused to release any of the 27 detainees during the first and second phases, in which it released, back in mid-August, 26 veteran detainees (14 from Gaza and 12 from the West Bank) and, in late October, when it released 26 veteran detainees (21 from Gaza and five from the West Bank).

More veteran detainees are to be released on March 28, 2014, as part of the mediated deal reached by the U.S. to ensure the resumption of direct political dialogue.

Various officials of the Israeli Government of Benjamin Netanyahu have been calling for voiding the agreement.