"Israel has completely frozen all new construction in West Bank settlements, despite recent comments by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israel would treat construction in the major settlement blocs differently from building in most settlements.
"Olmert has categorically denied approval for all new construction tenders, including in the so-called consensus settlement blocs, which Israel intends to keep in any future peace accord with the Palestinians.
"The freeze also applies to the construction of public institutions, including schools and kindergartens. Olmert recently sent an official letter to relevant cabinet ministers instructing them to refrain from authorizing any construction in the West Bank without his and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's prior approval...
"According to information made public several days ago, Barak had ordered settlement construction frozen beyond the parameters set forward by Olmert. Among other things, the defense minister said his approval is even needed for the private purchase of a home that has already been built."
This is great news, and a sign that Olmert's government is serious about negotiations with the Palestinians. The settlements themselves are a disgrace. They try to present themselves to sympathetic Americans as normal middle-class families, and there are many who were lured there by subsidized housing or simply dropped during the Soviet absorption period, but the movers and shakers behind the settlement project are militant religious fanatics living out messianic fantasies predicated on the belief that God cares deeply who lives in particular stretches of desert. Israel's continual support for their efforts, which includes even providing unauthorized ones with access to Israeli infrastructure, is a frankly expansionist project.
(Crossposted to American Footprints)