The New York Times on Saturday quoted American and Israeli officials as saying that the Bush administration is considering supporting building in developed areas in existing West Bank settlements.

A White House spokesman refrained Tuesday from criticizing Israel for issuing tenders to construct 1000 housing units in west bank settlements, saying tenders were being studied and that it was not possible to determine whether the Israeli road map commitments had been violated.

In the past, Washington has met the issuing of such tenders with calls for Israel to keep to the terms of the U.S.-sponsored road map, which bans all forms of settlement construction.

According to the New York Times report, U.S. official said that the Bush administration has made the decision in an effort to avoid a confrontation with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is currently fighting opponents to his disengagement plan within the Likud.

In practice, the new U.S. stance, as reported by NY Times, means an approval to what Israel describes as “construction to fulfill the needs of natural growth in settlements”

In the past, Israel widely misused the claims for “natural growth needs” and expanded settlements to the nearest empty hilltops, expanding the areas allocated for many settlements considerably.