Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) on Saturday promised to keep pushing construction plans for settlement units in the West Bank, despite world criticism, and seemed to accuse the NGO Peace Now of leaking the recent plans.
Ariel’s announcement on Tuesday — that the ministry had published tenders for some 20,000 units in the West Bank and the controversial E-1 corridor – set off an international outcry, led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to swiftly order Ariel to cancel the plans, and ostensibly prompted the Palestinian negotiation team to resign. The incident also led to a very public spat between the housing minister and the prime minister.
“These are plans that were published a month ago… Peace Now was trying to take advantage of it and trying to embarrass the prime minister. I think it’s a grave incident,” Ariel said in an interview with Channel 10 News Saturday.
“There are those here who do not accept the results of the [January general] elections and turn to other countries to bring ‘order,’” he said. “It won’t help, we will continue.”
Late Tuesday, Netanyahu instructed Ariel to reconsider all of the steps for evaluating potential construction that Ariel had advanced without coordination. “This step does not contribute to settlement. On the contrary, there is damage here for settlement,” Netanyahu told Ariel on Tuesday, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.
“This is a meaningless step – legally and in practice – and an action that creates an unnecessary confrontation with the international community at a time when we are making an effort to persuade elements in the international community to reach a better deal with Iran. At this time, the attention of the international community must not be diverted from the main effort – preventing Iran from receiving an agreement that will allow it to continue its military nuclear program,” the statement said.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the White House had been caught off guard by the Israeli move. ”We were surprised by these announcements, and are currently seeking further explanation from the government of Israel,” she said. ”Our position on settlements is quite clear — we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.”
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said he had called the United States, Russia, the European Union, the United Nations and the Arab League to voice his protest. “I informed them that if Israel implements this decision, then this means the end of the negotiations and the end of the peace process,” he said.