'No new tenders for W. Bank building'

Housing minister says settlement building shelved, not frozen; Peace Now: 60% of work done by NGOs.

ariel attias 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
ariel attias 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
No new tenders for building in the West Bank were issued since the Netanyahu government assumed power, Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias was quoted by Israel Radio as saying Tuesday afternoon. However, while construction in West Bank settlements had been shelved for the time being, there was no decision on freezing it, Attias said. He was rejecting reports carried by Israeli media outlets that claimed earlier Tuesday that Attias had secretly agreed with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to freeze all settlement construction. According to the construction and housing minister, the policy pursued was to try and reach a compromise with the Obama administration, while keeping to the principle that normal living conditions for Jews residing in the settlements must be sustained. He added that the US administration got "carried away" by its own demand to completely freeze settlement activity and that currently, the issue was being "quietly discussed" between the governments. Speaking about West Bank outposts, Attias said the government was yet to decide whether communities which were still in the midst of the statutory procedure would receive the stamp of legality or not. He revealed that in the past, the Construction and Housing Ministry had approved mortgages for settlers who lived in outposts which were established without government approval or recognition. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said he wasn't aware of any settlement freeze deal. "Any agreement on the issue must be made in the framework of a comprehensive deal," he told Army Radio. "What the High Court and government decide is what counts, and anything else is just talk." Meanwhile, Peace Now issued a statement following the media reports, claiming that there were over 1,000 housing units under construction in West Bank settlements and in east Jerusalem. According to the group, "anyone who visits the settlements can see large and small construction sites where construction continues at a rapid pace." The group also confirmed that since November 2008, the government had not issued any new tenders for construction of apartments in the settlements, except for a few tenders for completion of infrastructure and roads. But, Peace Now added, government-sponsored construction only constituted about 40 percent of all construction in the territories. Most of the building was undertaken through private initiatives from settler groups and right-leaning NGOs, it said. Accordingly, even if a complete freeze of construction bids on behalf of the government is put in place, at least 60% of all construction in the settlements would continue as before.