Settlers: Govt delaying 4,300 West Bank apartments
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Last Updated: Thursday, October 28, 2010, 00:16
Jerusalem: Jewish settlers accused the government today of holding up construction of more than 4,000 apartments in large West Bank settlements, suggesting that Israel is quietly complying with US demands to reinstate a building moratorium that expired in late September.

The settlers, releasing their first concrete figures on what projects are being blocked; say Defense Minister Ehud Barak is imposing a silent freeze by withholding his final approval of building plans.

Barak's office did not immediately comment, and a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred questions to the Defense Ministry.

The issue of Israeli settlement construction has become a key sticking point in US-backed peace talks, just weeks after their launch at a White House ceremony.

Israel has been under heavy pressure to renew its moratorium, which constrained new construction in West Bank settlements.

Some 300,000 Israelis already live in West Bank settlements, and the Palestinians say there is no point in negotiating peace if Israel continues to build homes on land they claim for a future state.

Netanyahu has refused to extend the slowdown, though officials say they are in talks with Washington on reaching a compromise. The Palestinians, backed by the Arab world, have given the US until early November to work out a deal.

Naftali Bennett, director of the Yesha Council settler umbrella group, told The Associated Press that a silent moratorium was in fact under way in large, urban settlements.

Some 4,300 apartments have all the necessary construction permits, but Barak hasn't authorised the state to put these projects out to bid, in effect freezing them, Bennett said. He provided a documented list of projects that he said were being held up.

Palestinian spokesman Ghassan Khatib said any drag on construction was "irrelevant" because construction continues elsewhere at a pace that outstrips that of recent years.

"That's why it doesn't make any sense to consider that there is any kind of freeze or any kind of slowdown. We can say the opposite," Khatib said.

As previously reported by The Associated Press, Israel has begun work on some 600 apartments across the West Bank since the 10-month moratorium expired -- at least double the pace of the previous two years.

That work has begun because all necessary approvals had already been obtained before the slowdown went into effect last November.

Many of those apartments are being built in outlying settlements expected to be evacuated under any peace deal with the Palestinians.


First Published: Thursday, October 28, 2010, 00:16

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