Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has ordered a freeze in tenders for West Bank settlement construction amid a US push to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Army Radio reported Tuesday.
Netanyahu reportedly gave the order in a meeting with Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi).
The reported freeze came as the country is under international pressure not to advance West Bank settlement projects, including those that were direct responses to unilateral Palestinian statehood efforts at the United Nations, such as the unbuilt area of Ma’aleh Adumim known as E1.
Army Radio quoted a government clerk as saying "most of the tenders are prepared and ready to be issued at any minute."
While neither Netanyahu nor Ariel immediately responded to the report, Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked was quoted by Army Radio as saying that "the Housing and Construction Ministry has prepared tenders that it is interested in issuing in the West Bank settlement blocs. They require the prime minister\’s signature, and for some reason that is not happening. It\’s a shame, there are many housing units ready to be tendered."
Last week, Ariel warned that Bayit Yehudi would not support the 2013 budget in the Knesset unless construction projects in West Bank settlements are fully funded.
“I turned to the prime minister today and warned him that if the 2013 budget doesn’t include full funding for building projects in Judea and Samaria, including those decided upon in reaction to the Palestinians’ unilateral statehood bid at the United Nations [this past fall] and additional projects, Bayit Yehudi will consider its coalition agreement as having been violated, and it won’t support the budget unless a solution is found for the promised funds,” Ariel said.
International pressure to freeze settlement building has only grown stronger now that the Arab League has modified its 2002 peace plan to include minor land swaps – a move that is seen as a possible prelude to renewed negotiations.
Palestinians have also told the US that they won’t attempt to pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court as long as Israel refrains from moving forward on the E1 project of 3,500 new Jewish homes.
Coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) said last week that “Likud Beytenu is obligated to the settlement enterprise. We will insist that the new budget strengthens the settlements and ensures their development.”
Ariel’s spokesman said in response that the minister would not have made such a threat unless he had reason to believe that funding for West Bank settlement-building was in danger.