Housing Minister Says Building Freeze On

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

Israel has frozen nearly all housing starts in settlements in Yehudah and Shomron and eastern Yerushalayim, Housing Minister Uri Ariel said on Tuesday, in an apparent bid to help U.S. efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.

The step has no bearing on construction already underway.

“I’ll give you the facts: In Yerushalayim, since the beginning of the year, there have been no tenders except for one … and the same goes for Yehudah and Shomron,” the Jewish Home party minister told Army Radio.

The Palestinians rejected Ariel’s remarks, alleging that “while such statements are made to placate Secretary Kerry, the fact remains that [building] activity has continued unabated under successive Netanyahu governments.”

Last week, officials said Israel was pressing on with plans for the construction of more than 1,000 new homes in Itamar and Bruchin.

Those proposals have not reached the stage where bids are sought from contractors, a process entailing public announcements that could clash with Kerry’s diplomatic drive.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not publicly confirmed housing starts have been suspended. But he said last week Israel had to be “smart about” where it built and hinted it was ready to limit expansion to clusters it intends to keep in any future land-for-peace deal.