Housing benefits will not be granted to some 70 West Bank settlements unless specifically approved by the defense minister, who has authority over West Bank construction, the cabinet decided on Wednesday.

The decision amended a cabinet resolution approved on Sunday that granted various housing benefits to people living in national priority areas. Since about 70 settlements are located in national priority areas, the new decision was passed to exclude them.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said the amendment was not included in Sunday's resolution because that resolution simply expanded a 2009 decision, and the latter already stated that granting housing and infrastructure benefits in the territories would require special approval from the relevant political officials.

"We decided to add the provision to [Sunday's] resolution to remove any doubt," a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said. "But there is no change in policy here, either for better or for worse."

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government had promised the United States not to give economic incentives or other benefits to Israelis who move to the settlements. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government ratified that commitment after taking office in 2009, and that commitment is presumably the main reason reason for Wednesday's amendment. Approval of the change was secured by polling cabinet members by phone.

But Netanyahu, speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, insisted that the U.S. administration applied no pressure to amend Sunday's decision beyond a request for clarification that came from the American embassy in Tel Aviv.

Read this article in Hebrew