Peres Cancels Plan to Expand Jewish West Bank Settlements

Prime Minister Shimon Peres has decided against building hundreds of new homes in the West Bank for fervently Orthodox Jews.

Housing Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer had proposed building apartments in the new settlement of Kiryat Sefer, located just outside Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries.

But the prime minister’s spokeswoman, Aliza Goren, said Peres had called for a suspension of the construction, calling on planners to look for another site within Israel for the new housing.

After his decision, a meeting planned for this week of the ministerial committee that oversees building in the territories was canceled.

The committee had been scheduled to review a proposal calling for the construction of some 6,300 new homes in the existing settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Betar, Alfei Menashe and Ilar Adar as well as in Kiryat Sefer.

The decision to cancel the committee meeting was sharply criticized by local leaders in settlements surrounding Jerusalem, where some of the building was planned.

Ben-Eliezer was reportedly concerned that any decision to stop the construction would create a backlash among settlers in the country’s upcoming national elections.

Last week, Ben-Eliezer came under fire from several Cabinet colleagues for his plan to build thousands of apartments in West Bank Jewish communities near Jerusalem.

Meretz ministers Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Sarid, along with Labor Party Minister Yossi Beilin, attacked Ben-Eliezer’s construction plans in the territories.

The proposal has also drawn angry reactions from Palestinians, who claimed that the new construction would violate the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.

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