Israel’s new housing minister rejected the notion of a building freeze in West Bank settlements as “dreadful,” on Sunday and said he intended to authorize construction over the pre-1967 Green Line “at more or less than same pace” as the previous government.
Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), speaking on his first day in the housing minister’s job, said “the idea of a settlement freeze is dreadful in my opinion.” He was being interviewed by Israel’s Channel 10 news, three days before the scheduled arrival here of President Barack Obama, who pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a freeze on building in settlements for 10 months from November 2009.
Ariel, himself 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, or Yesha, said he saw “no reason” to slow down the building of Jewish homes over the pre-1967 green line. “We will build in Judea and Samaria,” he pledged, using the Hebrew terms for the West Bank.
Ariel, one of the most hawkish members of Knesset, was elected to parliament as No. 2 on the Nationalist Jewish Home slate, after its leader Naftali Bennett. Bennett is to serve as minister of economics and trade in the new government, and the party’s No. 3 Nissan Slomiansky is slated to head the powerful Knesset Finance Committee, giving the pro-settlement party considerable influence in spheres where it can advance its agenda.
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 last year 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. “If we look at the reality in Jerusalem as a microcosm for the future, it seems the Arabs are in no hurry to exercise their right to vote. Although Jerusalem residents have the right to vote in municipal elections, they rarely do so, exhibiting throughout the years a voting rate of just 3-5%. In the 2008 municipal elections, a record low was reached when just 1% of the Arabs of Jerusalem – 1,300 of 130,000 – chose to vote in the elections.”
The 2009-10 settlement freeze was introduced in an attempt to persuade the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table. Abbas briefly resumed talks toward the end of that period, but then abruptly walked away again. There has been some speculation that Obama, on his visit this week or soon after, may urge Netanyahu to freeze settlement building in a new effort to restart negotiations. In an interview last week, however, when asked about a possible call for a freeze — a precondition demanded by Abbas for new talks — Obama said that the time for preconditions had passed and that “everybody knows what’s going to be involved here in setting up two states side-by-side living in peace and security.”