Netanyahu Puts Settlement Construction Plans on Hold Until After Kerry Visit

A senior official in Jerusalem says the prime minister asked the housing minister to delay publication of tenders for new West Bank homes; 'nobody wants to stick a finger in Kerry's eye,' he says.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked Housing Minister Uri Ariel to delay publication of tenders for the construction of 1,400 new housing units in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem until after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit, senior Israeli officials said Wednesday.

Kerry will arrive in Israel on Thursday for a series of meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in order to continue efforts at drafting the "framework agreement" for peace talks, which the U.S. hopes to present by the end of the month.

The secretary of state will stay in the region until Sunday, at least, and is likely to extend his visit by a few extra days.

Netanyahu announced last week that he planned to publish the new tenders after the third stage of the Palestinian prisoner release, which was carried out on Monday night. Tenders for construction were published after each of the first two stages of the prisoner release.

Although the number of units and location of construction were leaked unofficially to the public, the actual contracting tenders have not yet been published on the Housing Ministry website or in the media.

A senior official in Jerusalem said that Netanyahu and Ariel have an understanding that the tenders will be published after Kerry's visit: "Nobody has an intention of sticking a finger in Kerry's eye," said the official. "On this matter, there is full coordination between the prime minister and the housing minister."

Earlier Wednesday, the Jerusalem Municipal Planning and Building Committee decided at the last minute to pull from the day's agenda deliberations on the construction of a nine-story structure for a yeshiva in the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. This move also seems intended to avoid raising U.S. ire over settlement construction.

Ohr Somayach, a yeshiva that has operated in Jerusalem for decades and serves mostly newly religious students, recently submitted the plan to the city’s local Planning and Building Committee, which initially decided to put it on the agenda despite objections from some of the city’s own employees who say the plan would not serve the area’s local population.

The building is planned for an empty lot, most of which belongs to the Israel Lands Authority, and is located behind a neighborhood gas station. In addition to the nine stories, the new yeshiva building would also consist of three more floors underground, spanning a total of 9,615 square meters.

A construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beitar Ilit, near Bethlehem, December 26, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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