Report: Building Freeze Back in Full Force

YERUSHALAYIM -
General view of Ariel, in the Shomron. (Flash90)

There may be a new administration in the White House, but Israeli activists say that the same old building freeze in Yehudah and Shomron is essentially in place. A report in Maariv said that numerous building projects that were given a green light after the American presidential elections are back on hold – essentially continuing the de facto building freeze that was the rule during the tenure of former President Barack H. Obama.

Some of the projects have been approved by all levels of authority, and have passed all local, regional, and national council reviews – but have been halted by the Civil Authority, which has been given “orders” on the matter. According to sources in the government, those orders came directly from the Prime Minister’s office.

The new freeze affects many projects throughout Yehudah and Shomron, including inside the recognized security blocs. Officials on several approval committees told Maariv that they had been given messages by the Civil Authority not to take any action on further steps needed to actually begin construction of projects, “until further notice.”

That could happen in May, the Civil Authority has told the officials, according to the Maariv report, and that hope is one reason almost no mention has been made of the new freeze in interviews or media stories, as heads of communities in Yehudah and Shomron are hopeful that May’s warmer weather will “melt” the freeze. Others, however, are more skeptical – and believe that the freeze could be connected to a still-secret major American push for a regional security and cooperation agreement, something President Donald Trump has said several times he would like to see. Such an effort that would require a building freeze would be very problematic for Mr. Netanyahu, activists said, and it is unlikely his coalition could survive such a test.

At a March meeting with ministers, Mr. Netanyahu said that an arrangement had been worked out with the U.S. whereby new housing in Yehudah and Shomron will be limited to the “built-up” areas of settlements, meaning the areas that have already been approved for construction, or are within the municipal boundaries of settlements. Exceptions will be made for legal and security concerns, in which case construction will take place as close as possible to existing housing. New settlements – except for the one for Amona evictees that the government approved last month – and new outposts will be banned. Construction need not be restricted to settlement blocs, either. The “rules” were worked out after U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt discussed the matter with Israeli officials in Washington after he visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Netanyahu said.