Israel PM freezes West Bank settlement tenders: report
JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
A Palestinian protester throws back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during clashes near the West Bank village of Deir Jarir near Ramallah May 3, 2013. REUTERS photo
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered a freeze on publishing tenders for new West Bank settler homes to avoid hampering US efforts to renew peace talks, army radio reported on Tuesday.
Israel's Peace Now settlement watchdog also said there had not been any tenders for new West Bank construction published since the start of the year.
Neither Netanyahu's office, nor the housing ministry would comment on the army radio report, which said the premier had gone back on a pre-election pledge to push ahead with thousands of new settler homes if reelected.
The decision to build thousands of new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem was taken as a punitive measure late last year after the Palestinians won upgraded UN status, despite strong opposition from Israel and Washington.
News of the tender freeze was communicated by Netanyahu to Housing Minister Uri Ariel several days ago, the radio said.
Ariel, himself a settler, is number two in the far-right Jewish Home party which lobbies for increased Israeli construction on land seized during the 1967 Six Day War.
"I have no intention of revealing details of my discussions with the prime minister," Ariel told the radio.
The radio said the tenders were related to construction in the major settlement blocs which are home to most of the 360,000 Israelis living in the West Bank.
Netanyahu's decision to freeze the tenders was linked to efforts led by US Secretary of State John Kerry to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinians, according to the radio.
Ayelet Shaked, an MP with Jewish Home, confirmed that the housing minister had "prepared thousands of tenders for construction in Judaea and Samaria" -- the biblical term for the West Bank.
"But for these tenders to lead to construction, they must be signed by the prime minister and for some reason it hasn't happened," she said.
Peace Now's Hagit Ofran confirmed that the watchdog had seen no evidence of any new tenders published since the start of 2013.
"There have been no new tenders published for settlement construction in the West Bank since the start of the year, and tenders are normally issued every three months," she told AFP.
"This is not a settlement freeze because construction in the settlements is continuing, but you could say it is a show of restraint by Benjamin Netanyahu who does not want to be accused by the Americans of being responsible for the failure of their efforts to restart negotiations with the Palestinians."