Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to meet with United States Secretary
of State John Kerry in Rome on Wednesday, amidst rumors that Israel had frozen
tenders for some West Bank settlement construction projects as a gesture to the
Palestinians to help restart negotiations.
It’s their second such meeting
in less than a week. Livni along with the Prime Ministers Office’s special envoy
Yitzhak Molcho, met with Kerry in Washington last Thursday.
Kerry is also
scheduled to meet with Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh while in
On Tuesday, Army Radio stated that Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu told Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) to
freeze building tenders for government-funded housing projects in some larger
West Bank settlements.
The PM’s Office did not respond to the report.
Ariel also refused to confirm it. He told Army Radio that he was not willing to
comment on a private conversation with Netanyahu.
“I am not commenting. A
minister sits with his prime minister. If they want to go public, they have ways
to go public. If they want it stay between them, it will stay between them,”
Chief Palestinian Liberation Organization negotiator Saeb
Erekat said that he had not been informed of any moves to curb settlement
“We have not been notified of any changes to Israel’s
colonial plans, including ongoing construction in dozens of Israeli settlements
in the Occupied State of Palestine, including in and around our occupied capital
east Jerusalem,” Erekat said.
Nabil Abu Rdaineh, a spokesman for
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, responded cautiously to the
“A freeze in settlement construction within the 1967 borders and
especially Jerusalem are the basis of starting any genuine and serious
negotiations,” he said. “We must hear Israel state this policy
Palestinians have refused to hold direct negotiations with
Israel until it halts all settlement activity and Jewish building in east
Jerusalem. In an attempt to meet this Palestinian demand, Netanyahu imposed a
10-month moratorium on settler housing starts in the West Bank. But the
Palestinians returned to the table only in the last month of the moratorium in
When Netanyahu refused to renew the moratorium, the
Palestinians halted the talks.
Since then it has been assumed that the
Palestinians would not accept as a basis for negotiations, any partial gestures
with respect to their demand for a settlement freeze.
“Israel has a clear
obligation under international law to immediately cease all settlement
activity,” Erekat said.
According to Peace Now’s count, since US
President Barack Obama’s visit in March, there have been no new announcements of
housing construction in the settlements. New plans have not been approved and
new tenders have not been issued, Peace Now said.
However, it noted that
this situation did not constitute a settlement freeze.
It cautioned that
construction continued, and that what was needed was a full settlement
Settler sources said they believed the Army Radio report was
accurate and referred to housing projects in the settlements of Karnei Shomron,
Ariel, Efrat and Givat Ze’ev.
Avi Ro’eh, who heads the Council of Jewish
Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, reached out to Netanyahu who
is traveling this week in China. He asked the PMO staff with him to organize a
phone conversation with Netanyahu to clarify the matter. But as of press time,
no such conversation had occurred.
Herzl Ben-Ari, Karnei Shomron council
head, said that to his sorrow, the Army Radio report was true. He has been
waiting since January, he said, for the publication of tenders for 250 new homes
in his settlement.
Each time he’s contacted the Defense Ministry and the
Construction and Housing Ministry, he’s been told that the tenders are completed
and are waiting only for authorization from the upper echelons, said
He had understood from this that Netanyahu had held up
publication of the tenders, Ben- Ari said.
He added that he had been told
the problem was diplomatic and not technical. First it was the visit of Obama,
then Kerry, and now again, that Livni is going to meet with Kerry.
another de-facto freeze,” he said. “I do not understand why the government
publicly states we’ll build, and then privately reneges,” he said.
international community has already condemned them for these homes, and in the
end they are not building them,” he said.
Oded Revivi, Efrat council
head, however, told The Jerusalem Post, that to date he knew of no projects in
his settlement that had been frozen nor did he believe that they would
So far, he said, “it’s business as usual. We are definitely worried
that a freeze could happen, but politically I do not see the Likud or Bayit
Yehudi falling into the trap of another freeze,” Revivi said.
Adumim mayor Benny Kashriel said he hoped the Army Radio story was simply a
rumor. However, he continued to note the E1 project of 3,500 new homes slated on
an un-built area of his settlement remained frozen in spite of Netanyahu’s
promises to advance the project.
Palestinians have threatened to attempt
to sue Israel before the International Criminal Court if it advanced the E1
Separately, on Tuesday night settler leaders held their first
meeting with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon since he took office in
“We met a defense minister who is principled and Zionist and
recognizes the importance of the settlements and is attentive to security
issues,” Ro’eh said.
Reuters contributed to this report.