Middle East

Israel to delay settlement starts for Obama trip: report

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2012 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office. (AP Photo/Gali Tibbon, Pool, File)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has banned settler housing tenders being issued for the West Bank and East Jerusalem when U.S. President Barack Obama visits this month, a daily said Friday.

Netanyahu had told officials the “suspension” did not amount to a freeze in settlement construction, and that it would only be in place up until the end of Obama’s trip to avoid “embarrassing” leaders, Maariv newspaper reported.

In March 2010, Israel sparked the ire of the U.S. administration by announcing, during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, that 1,600 new homes would be built in the East Jerusalem quarter of Ramat Shlomo.

“According to instructions provided by the prime minister’s office to the appropriate officials in the ministries of defense and housing, no new tenders for housing will be issued for these areas in the coming weeks,” Maariv said.

“Similarly, projects whose planning has been completed will not be carried out, and all other bureaucratic steps involved in the public tenders will be postponed,” it added.

“In telephone conversations which Netanyahu held with officials, it was emphasised that there was no [construction] freeze, but rather a suspension whose purpose is not to embarrass the political establishment during the president’s visit.”

Netanyahu’s office had no immediate comment on the Maariv report.

Obama is to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah during his visit on March 20-22, his first as president.

The White House says Obama has no plans to use the trip to push new proposals to break the more than two-year deadlock in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants to renew peace negotiations in tandem with a freeze on Jewish settlement construction with the aim of securing a state along the lines which existed before the 1967 war.

Netanyahu has called for direct talks – but without preconditions.

In February last year, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu had ordered a pause in the construction of new homes in mainly Arab East Jerusalem to avoid conflict during a visit to the White House.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 02, 2013, on page 11.




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