PM Denies Building Freeze Agmt.

The Netanyahu government appears to be preventing new construction for Jews in Judea and Samaria but is not freezing projects underway.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu , | updated: 16:55

Obama pressuring for building freeze
Obama pressuring for building freeze
Israel news photo

The Prime Minister's Office explicitly denied Tuesday afternoon that cabinet ministers had secretly agreed upon a building freeze in Judea and Samaria.

"There is not now, nor was there any agreement between the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, and the Housing Minister to freeze construction in Judea and Samaria," according to the Prime Minister's Office.

Earlier media reports to the contrary indicated that the government, in an agreement among cabinet members, had quietly acceded to U.S. President Barack Obama’s demand to halt construction for Jews in Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem. Early Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev did not dispel the claim of a concession on Israeli construction rights, offering only a “no comment.”

The decision, as originally reported, does not include projects now underway, as demanded by the Palestinian Authority. Peace Now official Hagit Ofran told the Associated Press that hundreds of housing units now under construction are not affected.

Foreign news services reported that unnamed government sources confirmed international pressure has forced an unofficial freeze on issuing tenders for new projects. However, a decision to halt new projects actually is a continuation of a policy that in reality has been in effect for several months.

The Hebrew-language Yediot Acharonot newspaper claimed Tuesday that the building freeze will be in effect until the early part of next year. The alleged agreement was made with the consent of Housing Minister Ariel Atias of Shas, whose party opposes a building freeze.

Atias told Voice of Israel government radio that the decision is not a freeze but is the implementation of a “waiting policy” to enable Israel to reach an agreement with the United States.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon said, "I hope the publication of a settlement construction freeze is just a rumor because we have not heard about it and we certainly don't accept it. With all due respect to the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Housing Minister, these type of decisions should be made in the appropriate forums and no such decision was made in these forums."

Prime Minister Netanyahu is to meet next week with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who has been trying to work out an agreement that would return the Palestinian Authority and Israel to the negotiating table. The PA has conditioned any talks on a total building freeze while refusing Israel’s demand that the PA acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state. The Obama government has been negotiating with Israel in place of the PA.