Israel reassured the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority over the weekend that the planning process for 24,000 new housing units in West Bank settlements was frozen two week ago.
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The Prime Minister's Office sent the message to the United States and to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' office after Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Friday that despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's orders to Housing Minister Uri Ariel, and despite guarantees given to the Americans, the Housing Ministry neglected to publish updated tenders without the plans for new settlement construction.
The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv was furious at the report, as was Mahmoud Abbas' office, and both demanded explanations.
"The Americans and the Palestinians were notified that the report over the weekend was incorrect," a senior Israeli official at the Prime Minister's Office said. "We emphasized to them that the prime minister's instruction not to advance preliminary procedures for planning as published on November 12 in Judea, Samaria and E1 is being fulfilled."
The official added that over the weekend, an additional inquiry was carried out, reaffirming that none of the procedures that the housing minister initiated were being advanced.
Another official said that following the message relayed to the United States, the forms for these specific tenders have been removed from the Housing Ministry's website.
On November 12, Haaretz reported the Housing Ministry had issued a tender to plan the construction of some 24,000 housing units in the West Bank, including 1,200 housing units in the E1 area, which links Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim, a stretch of land Israel promised the United States it would not develop.
When the news of the tenders broke, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to call off peace talks and demanded Israel go back on its new settlement plans. The U.S. State Department said it is "deeply concerned" by Israel's announcement over the tenders and demanded an explanation from Israel.
Netanyahu reprimanded Ariel saying that his ministry's move to issue tenders for potential construction does not contribute to the settlement movement, but actually damages it. Netanyahu also told the housing minister that he expects him to coordinate with him on such moves before going ahead.