Israel: Settlement expansion ongoing, but best not to talk about it
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Ya'alon: 'We built in the past. We’re building in the present. We will build in the future'

Israel: Settlement expansion ongoing, but best not to talk about it

Netanyahu and Ya'alon say they're keeping construction beyond the Green Line quiet lest they lose international backing for anti-terrorism measures

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon during a joint press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem regarding the recent wave of terror in Israel, October 8, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon during a joint press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem regarding the recent wave of terror in Israel, October 8, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel is constantly expanding its West Bank settlement enterprise, and intends to continue doing so, but in the interest of maintaining international support to quell terror, it’s best not to talk about it at the moment, Israeli leaders said Thursday.

“Building in Judea and Samaria was not frozen for even a minute,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to the West Bank.

“We built in the past. We’re building in the present. We will build in the future,” Ya’alon declared. But in certain circumstances, like the current wave of terrorism, it’s better not to draw attention to Israeli construction beyond the pre-1967 lines, he indicated.

The international community’s preoccupation with Israeli settlements has less to do with ongoing construction but focuses on the publication of new tenders, the defense minister made clear. Therefore, it was preferable to “focus on the war on terror and not to attract international fire to the subject of building in the settlements,” he said.

Jerusalem’s reluctance to announce new settlement building is also intended “not to divert the [public] discussion,” which currently should focus on Israel’s efforts to beat terrorism, the defense minister went on.

For his part, Netanyahu said it was “common sense” not to announce new settlement construction at the moment, since such a move would jeopardize the international community’s support for Israel’s efforts to stem the current violence. “We built a lot, including recently,” he said.

The press conference, held at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, focused on the ongoing violence currently rocking Israel and means to restore calm. Netanyahu’s and Ya’alon’s comments, however, underline that the current government strongly favors settlement expansion and is holding back only out of short-term practical considerations.

Members of the right-wing coalition have criticized Netanyahu vehemently for his refusal to announce plans for construction in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, which many nationalists consider the only “appropriate Zionist response” to Arab terror. Netanyahu himself has argued in the past that the best response to terrorism is to continue building up the Land of Israel.

Recently, though, Netanyahu has reportedly claimed that the US administration warned him against taking any such steps, threatening to support a potential French resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would call for the rapid creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

At Thursday’s press conference, the prime minister denied outside pressure kept him from announcing new building projects in East Jerusalem or the West Bank. Rather, he suggested that such a policy of restraint is in Israel’s best interest. “It’s not a question of any ultimatum. It’s a question of common sense,” he said.

Israel currently enjoys strong international backing for its anti-terror operations, Netanyahu said. The government has taken several dramatic steps to fight the current wave of violence, such as penetrating deep into Arab neighborhoods, changing open-fire directives, introducing higher minimum punishments for people who throw stones or Molotov cocktails, fining the parents of minors who violate the public order and other measures that cannot be made public, Netanyahu said.

“My primary focus is to restore safety. I don’t want to be diverted currently with a topic that will hurt us internationally at this point,” he said, referring to expansion of settlements.

The prime minister said that he has faced criticism over the years vis-à-vis his policies on the settlements, though few know how much has been actually built there. “But certainly nobody will teach me about the settlements, or about loyalty to the Land of Israel,” he said defiantly. “My first commitment is to security of Israel. Security currently requires actions, focusing on them, and as much international backing as possible for the security-related measures we’re taking.”

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