Israel quietly agrees to settlement freeze

The Israeli government has unofficially frozen settlement building in the West Bank following a request from US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Mr Kerry has visited Israel twice in the past two months and has since held two more meetings with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of talks between Israel and the PA.

While the talks have been frozen for more than two years and no date has yet been set for their renewal, Israeli officials said that the “temporary freeze” was an attempt to assist Mr Kerry in his efforts to lay the foundations for new rounds of negotiations.

In return for Israel committing to the freeze until mid-June, the PA has agreed to put on hold its attempts to gain further unilateral recognition for a Palestinian state.

Israel announced last November it would begin planning for 3,000 new homes in the West Bank following the vote at the UN General Assembly that upgraded the Palestinians’ status.

Originally, the work was put on hold two months ago before the visit of President Barack Obama but, following Mr Kerry’s request, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a freeze on all work for a two-month period.

This is the second time in as many months that Mr Netanyahu has bowed to the wishes of the Obama administration. His previous concession came at the end of Mr Obama’s visit when he agreed to call the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and apologise for the deaths of nine Turkish citizens during the clashes on the Mavi Marmara ferry bound for Gaza three years ago.

The building freeze has angered the settlers and could cause the coalition’s first crisis. The pro-settler party Habayit Hayehudi has warned that it will not vote for the new state budget if there is no building.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Housing Minister Uri Ariel, himself a settler and a senior member of Habayit Hayehudi, is in charge of implementing the freeze.

One of the housing projects now frozen is the plan to build 800 homes in the E1 area to the east of Jerusalem.

Over 2,000 members of the Bedouin Jahalin tribe have been told that they will be evicted from the area to allow the building to go ahead. Israel claims that the Bedouin are there illegally.

Last updated: 6:45pm, May 9 2013