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