Israeli authorities have recently imposed a “silent freeze” on planning for further Jewish settlement expansion, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said Monday.
While construction work is currently taking place on already approved projects, no new developments are planned and no tenders and bids are being issued, he said.
“I don’t know of a formal policy to limit building. But when you look, de facto, what’s happening on the ground, yes, you feel there is a silent freeze in terms of planning and in terms of government construction,” Danon (Likud) told The Times of Israel. “And that’s something that bothers me.”
This “freeze” is being enforced everywhere — within and outside the so-called settlement blocs, he said.
“If you don’t allow any planning, it will stop. You will have no [housing] units for youngsters in Ariel, in Maaleh Adumim. This is happening already.”
Major West Bank cities should be expanding, the deputy minister said, but “you don’t see it happening. You see kindergartens in Ariel are being closed down next year, because there are no youngsters,” he said. “You will see there are not enough apartments.”
Danon said he wasn’t sure why the government would agree to quietly freeze settlement expansion, suggesting that pressure from the United States might be behind it. “Building in Judea and Samaria is a major issue among the Americans,” he said, using the Biblical names for the West Bank. “A lot of pressure is being put on us.”
But Dani Dayan, of the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, backed Danon’s claim of a “silent” settlement freeze. “For the last three months, the planning committee of the Civil Administration in charge of building has not convened even once,” he told The Times of Israel Monday. “Plans for new buildings were not advanced one inch, let alone approved. There are no new tenders at all,” he said.
Construction is proceeding on pre-approved projects, Dayan said. “There is still some water in the pipeline, but if no new water is added, then clearly the pipeline will dry up soon.”
“As far as we know, this is because of a direct order from the Prime Minister’s Office,” Dayan charged, adding that he assumes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “intimidated” by “threats” from the White House or the State Department.
The PMO declined to comment on Danon’s statements.
According to unnamed senior US officials, President Barack Obama believes that Israeli announcements of construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem throughout the nine months of the US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were more central than any other factor in causing the negotiations’ collapse. Ten days ago in Washington, US special envoy Martin Indyk said settlement activity had “sabotaged negotiations” and now represented “a roadblock to resumption of negotiations.” In a report late last month, the dovish Peace Now NGO said Israel had approved the construction of nearly 14,000 homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the nine months of peace talks.
Hagit Ofran, settlement watch project director for Peace Now, said that it was “premature” to speak about a settlement freeze. “Not enough time has passed since the last time new tenders were published,” she told The Times of Israel Monday. The Civil Administration’s planning committee is meeting constantly, and republished tenders for new housing units as early as the end of April, she said.
“In the speed in which construction is done it’s quite normal to have three weeks without any new announcements,” she said, adding that it was common for there to be a pause between new tenders, especially when so many tenders were announced in previous months. “[A break of] three months is an exaggeration,” she said, dismissing Dayan’s claim.
In a meeting with Times of Israel staff in Jerusalem, the deputy defense minister also addressed Israel’s response to so-called “price tag” hate crime attacks. More should be done to bring perpetrators to justice, he said, but he suggested that authorities should also pay attention to the psychological issues leading radicalized West Bank settlers to commit such acts.
“We have to send not only the police to these places, but also mental health professionals to deal with all those youngsters. That’s something we’re failing to do,” he said. “Whoever is participating in those acts is unstable. They’re hurting the State of Israel, they’re hurting the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.”
Danon said that he was “very close” to the Jewish communities in the West Bank, and asserted that the vast majority of settlers would like to see such attacks stop. “If they could have taken a decision and uprooted those forces, they would have done it,” he said. “The bottom line is to go to the police forces who investigate it [and instruct them] to do a better job, and to the judges, when they get to the point of ruling, to be very harsh when they sentence those people to jail.”
However, Danon lamented, at the same times as the country denounces the “price tag” events, spray-paint attacks on synagogues in the mixed Jewish-Arab cities of Lod and Ramle, allegedly perpetrated “by Muslim hooligans,” do not receive any media attention.
‘Peres proved you can support the state from this position’
Regarding the presidential elections, scheduled for June 10, the deputy minister, known as one of the leaders of Likud’s young far-right wing, said he will likely back either Reuven Rivlin or Silvan Shalom.
Perhaps surprisingly, he had some warm words for Shimon Peres, the dovish outgoing president.
“Shimon Peres proved that you can add things and you can support the state from this [presidential] position,” Danon said. “I think he added valued to the presidency, in terms of bringing investment to Israel… I’m not happy about everything he said, I’m not supporting his ideology at all. But I think he was a symbol.”
While some Israelis argue that the largely representational office is a waste of public funds, Danon said Peres’s accomplishments for Israel easily outweigh the costs of the upkeep of his official residency and his frequent travels.
Regarding the conflict with the Palestinians, Danon reiterated his fierce opposition to any two-state solution, instead calling on Israel to annex parts of the West Bank. While international consensus speaks of Israel retaining the major Jewish settlements blocs in the West Bank, and the rest going to a future Palestinian state, Danon hopes to “gain sovereignty over the majority of the land” in the West Bank, “with the minimum number of Palestinians.”
According to his plan, the Palestinians would keep only their major population centers and would not receive Israeli citizenship. “Their status will have to be determined with Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians. It shouldn’t be Israel’s burden to deal with that issue. I think Jordan must be involved more than they are today.”
How exactly a future agreement would look, Danon said, remains unclear. “It’s not only [a choice between] two states or one state. That’s how it’s being presented. But I say wait, there are other options, let’s wait and discuss,” he said. “If you look at what’s happening today in the region, you see that everything is open to negotiations.”
Israel made a mistake by not annexing major parts of the West Bank after capturing them in 1967, Danon said. “But it’s not too late.”
If he were in power, he would move to annex Area C, which covers some 60% of the West Bank and is home to an estimated 4% of the Palestinian populace. The territory should be annexed at a future opportune occasion, for example as a retaliatory step for unilateral moves by the Palestinians. “You need to think about the timing,” he said. “So I’m not saying to do it tomorrow morning. But it’s something that we should do, and we should think about when we do it and how we do it, but it’s something that we should aim for.”
Arguing for the Jews’ right to the land of Israel, Danon quotes the Bible and international treaties, but also what he considers simple logic: “When you win the war, you don’t make compromises after that,” he said. “It doesn’t work like that. We won the war — they can’t go back now and say, ‘Well, in ’48 [when the United Nations proposed a Jewish state and an Arab state] the intention was different.’ Yes, but the fact is that they lost. That’s part of life. We should retain what we won in the war.”