Israel Suspends Building Starts, Cancels 5,000 Housing Contracts

The new Labor government has announced a two-week suspension of all building starts in Israel proper and the territories, while it reviews current housing policy.

The move is designed to facilitate the government’s new approach to the building of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, without specifically singling out the settlements at this time.

In a related move, Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has issued orders that contracts on 5,000 housing starts due to have been signed in the coming days be voided. This despite the fact that these starts were approved by the previous government and that the infrastructure for them is already in place.

Jewish activists in the territories termed the move “a declaration of war” on the Jewish settlement movement.

The Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza issued a statement decrying the decision as a “gross violation of government norms of conduct and a surrender to ongoing pressure from the left and from the Palestinians.”

Benny Katzover, head of the Samaria district council, said other settlement activity had also already fallen victim to the ministry’s new policy.

He said caravans and mobile homes due to have been delivered this week had been effectively frozen, and that companies supplying them had been told to stand by and await orders from the government.

Ben-Eliezer was due to confer with Finance Minister Avraham Shohat at the week’s end on the broader fiscal implications for the government of canceling building contracts in the territories.

In his Knesset appearance Monday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin indicated that the government’s policy of freezing the construction of “political settlements” would be less than total.

There would be necessary building to accommodate natural growth and the population’s needs, he said, and the government would do “nothing illegal” by way of voiding contracts that were legally irrevocable.

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