PM must OK new W. Bank construction

A government spokesperson says the letter Olmert sent to ministers on Sunday excludes Jerusalem.

settlement Building248.88 (photo credit: )
settlement Building248.88
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a directive Monday, a week before the arrival of US President George W. Bush, saying his approval is needed for all settlement construction in the West Bank. The letter comes amid an international outcry last month that followed the announcement of plans for new construction in east Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim. The letter, sent Monday to the defense, housing, and agriculture ministers, read, "Establishment, new construction, expansion, preparation of plans, issuing residency tenders, confiscation of land and all other activities related to Israeli settlement of the area shall not go forward and shall not be carried out without requesting and receiving in advance approval by the defense minister and the prime minister." Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said the directive applied to all of the West Bank, including large settlement blocs such as Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel. At he same time, Regev noted that the letter "excludes Jerusalem." Regev explained the letter as a "policy directive to the relative governing agencies to ensure that the machinery of government is ready and able to implement our obligations under the road map." The first phase of the road map calls on Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth of settlements. Olmert, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, said there was a "certain contradiction" between what Israel promised in the road map and what was happening on the ground. His directive seemed designed to address that contradiction. In a related development, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met Monday with Palestinian Authority negotiator Ahmed Qurei for their third round of talks since the Annapolis conference at the end of November. Livni's office put out a statement saying that the sides had discussed "ways to continue the negotiations and facilitate the work of the negotiating teams."