The report in Haaretz on Tuesday whereby the U.S. administration has become convinced that it would be impossible to freeze West Bank settlement construction altogether came as a shock to Israeli peace activists.

The activists quickly handed over to the Americans documents proving the legal system's approval of a settlement freeze, containing High Court of Justice rulings in which the justices rejected petitions filed by settler organizations in a bid to prevent the settlement freeze.

Two panels of judges who reviewed the petitions ruled that there was no legal reason to prevent the freezing of the construction and that the policy formulated by the government had only to do with financial considerations, which were up to the sole discretion of the government, and not the legal system.

The petitions, filed against the Yitzhak Rabin administration in 1992, came after the government decided to freeze the construction in the settlements, in accordance with assurances given to the American administration.

The settlers argued in their petition that the freezing of construction work underway in Kiryat Arba, Ariel, Revava and Avney Hefetz would cause irreversible harm to these communities and could even bring about a "degeneration and extermination" of these communities. They argued, furthermore, that "a serious demoralization was taking shape, which was harming the urban and social fabric of life" in the settlements. The settlements in question had been established by private entrepreneurs in accordance with government guidelines formulated in 1984.

In ruling to reject the petition, the court said that "the new [government] policy reflects a shift in the national agenda, after the previous administration encouraged construction in the said areas."

The construction of thousands of apartments in Israel and in the Palestinian territories was halted under a direct order included in the contract struck between the state and every one of the construction companies involved in the building. The contracts signed between the state and the construction companies, in most cases, included an assurance on the part of the government to purchase apartments that weren't sold to buyers, and the government fully compensated the companies.

Attorney Talia Sasson, who represented the state in these hearings, told Haaretz that the government and the military have full authority to issue orders instructing companies to halt construction in the settlements, be it private or public, in accordance with the government policy. She added that anyone who feels that the policy has caused him harm is free to file a compensation claim and the matter will be discussed in the civilian courts.