Housing minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) said Tuesday that there would be no freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank or Jerusalem, according to media reports of an address he made at a Jerusalem Day party.
“There will be just one state between the Jordan River and the sea, and that is the State of Israel,” Ariel stated at the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in the capital. ”
“Jerusalem will not be divided again,” he added. “There are no [construction] freezes and there will be no more freezes — we won’t allow it.”
“We won’t accept delays and restrictions [on building], not in Jerusalem and not in Judea and Samaria.”
Ariel, the founder of several settlements, the first mayor of the settlement of Beit El, and a former 10-year head of the Council of Jewish Settlements, is a consistent advocate of accelerated settlement building and annexing the entire West Bank. The Jewish Home party’s opposition to a settlement freeze was reportedly central to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opting instead to release Palestinian prisoners as part of the framework for resuming peace talks with the Palestinians last year — a nine-month attempt at peacemaking that collapsed last month.
One of the most hawkish members of Knesset, he was elected to parliament as No. 2 on the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home slate, after its leader Naftali Bennett. While Bennett has urged Israel to annex the 60% of the West Bank designated as Area C — where most of the settlers and relatively few Palestinians live – Ariel in 2012 unveiled a plan to annex the entire West Bank, giving the Palestinians “permanent resident” status in the expanded Israel, and the possibility of full voting rights. “All Arabs of Judea and Samaria who are interested in receiving full Israeli citizenship will be able to do so following a five year period following which, as in the US, they will take a citizenship test and a Hebrew language test and will sign a statement of loyalty to Israel. Following this procedure, they will be granted the right to vote for the Knesset,” Ariel suggested. Most would not want to do so, he argued.
Several right-wing MKs led by Bennett have in recent days come out in support of annexing Jewish sites and Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank, and have been working on legislation to that effect.
The initiative has presumably come in response to Netanyahu’s comments last week in an interview with Bloomberg, in which he hinted that Israel may have to take unilateral action in response to failed negotiations with the Palestinians.
The statements were interpreted by hawkish MK’s as a call for annexation, while more dovish elements in the government, Tzipi Livni among them, said the time may have come to consider a unilateral pullout from certain areas in the West Bank.
Sources close to Netanyahu were later quoted saying he did not have unilateral withdrawals from territory in mind. Netanyahu acknowledged during the interview that the idea of a unilateral withdrawal from the area was gaining traction across the political spectrum, but warned that Israel could not risk another Gaza, which was taken over by Hamas after Israeli unilaterally disengaged.
“Many Israelis are asking themselves if there are certain unilateral steps that could theoretically make sense. But people also recognize that the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza didn’t improve the situation or advance peace,” he said.