Israel has quietly stopped approving new building projects in the West Bank while publicly still refusing U.S. demands for an official settlement freeze, government officials said Tuesday.The decision to temporarily shelve new construction was made jointly by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Housing Minister Ariel Atias, the officials said.
“The fact is, we are in a holding pattern … an attempt, I believe, to reach an understanding with the U.S. administration and a comprehensive peace agreement,” Atias said.
The Israeli anti-settlement organization Peace Now confirmed no new tenders had been issued but said more than 1,000 housing units were currently under construction in the West Bank on land Palestinians want for a state.
However, the government officials said Tuesday that Israel has decided to temporarily stop green-lighting new projects because of the international pressure.
The move falls short of the U.S. demand because it doesn’t amount to a full freeze – projects approved in the past are still being built, and groups tracking settlements say the pace of construction in the settlements has not slowed.
Still, it could be an indication Israel is seeking a compromise with
Washington over the issue.
Peace Now said Israeli government-sponsored building accounted for only about 40 percent of the Israeli constuction in the West Bank.
“Most of the building is through private initiatives from settler groups and non-governmental organisations,” Peace Now said in a statement.