Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told settler leaders that “current pressures” prevent a resumption of settlement construction, the leaders said.
Following a three-hour late Tuesday meeting with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, leaders of the Yesha Council told journalists they had urged a resumption of settlement construction in response to the recent wave of Palestinian terror attacks, but were told such a resumption was not possible diplomatically.
“We weren’t told that there’s no building and there’s a freeze. We were told that there is an inability to approve and advance construction under current pressures,” council chairman Avi Roeh said. “Strategically, it’s a serious mistake not to approve construction; it will harm the settlement [project] and in the end cause harm to Jerusalem and the entire state of Israel.”
“We presented our dissatisfaction with the current policy of the government when it comes to settlement,” Roeh said. “We raised the ethical and strategic issues linked to settlement. On this issue, sadly, we did not receive worthwhile answers,” but rather “answers that were partial and unsatisfactory. There was talk,” he explained, “about the difficulties the government faces, primarily abroad, in its ability to allow construction and planning.”
Yesha Council leaders, comprising local government heads from West Bank regional councils, plan to meet Wednesday to discuss future steps in their efforts to pressure the government to up its response to the terror wave.
The United States reportedly issued Israel an ultimatum this week: announce new settlement construction and Washington won’t veto a Security Council resolution declaring West Bank settlements illegal.
Netanyahu rejected calls by senior ministers for renewed construction in Jewish settlements at a meeting of his security cabinet on Monday. According to a Channel 2 report Tuesday, that was because the Obama administration had warned Netanyahu against announcing new construction over the Green Line in response to the uptick in terrorism.
The report cited senior sources in the Israeli government as saying that the White House told Netanyahu that the US wouldn’t necessarily veto a French-sponsored resolution at the United Nations Security Council.
The US has thus far been a staunch supporter of Israel at the UN, protecting it from condemnation in the 15-member council by using its veto power as a permanent member.
“We will not endanger our international support for some construction tender or for expanding construction in Itamar,” a senior source was quoted as saying.
Netanyahu reportedly told ministers from the pro-settlement Jewish Home party that new construction in the West Bank was liable to endanger Israeli settlers even more and complicate the situation between Israelis and Palestinians.
In a response to the Channel 2 report, a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the Prime Minister’s Office was “unaware of any American threats” to refrain from exercising its veto power in the Security Council.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have reached fever pitch in recent days, following weeks of clashes on the Temple Mount and a series of deadly terrorist attacks on Israelis.
Washington’s reported threat to not veto the motion at the UN came shortly after a Politico report which said US President Barack Obama had rejected multiple calls by a top Democratic senator that he speak out publicly against a Palestinian statehood resolution at the United Nations.
Obama’s refusal, the report said, “highlights how wide the gulf between the Obama administration and Israeli government has become.” The rebuff “unfolded in the context of a personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu that’s become highly toxic, poisoning US-Israeli relations more widely.”
Also Tuesday, Netanyahu responded to calls from the right flank of his party, including several of his ministers, urging him to toughen measures against Palestinian violence, saying he has given the army full support to crack down on terror.
The comments by Netanyahu came a day after thousands of people rallied outside his official residence and criticized the government’s handling of a recent surge in Palestinian terror attacks. Among the attendees were a number of politicians who are part of Netanyahu’s coalition, including some cabinet members.
“We will break this wave of terror as we have broken previous waves of terror,” he said during a tour in the West Bank to visit the site of a fatal shooting last Thursday in which Eitam Henkin and his wife Naama were shot dead in front of their children by Palestinian terrorists. “There is no doubt here about giving the army wide support and everyone knows that, including those who claim the opposite.”
Netanyahu noted that security plans would see cameras installed along highways throughout the West Bank, backed up by aerial surveillance monitored by command centers.
He told reporters the country’s top security echelon had decided to “significantly increase active protection” on Israel’s streets.
“The intention is to use all means available to the State of Israel — it’s a very powerful nation in terms of its army, its security forces and its technology — to significantly increase its security on the streets.”