After a much publicized spat over an announcement earlier this week that his ministry had published tenders for the planning of 20,000 new housing units beyond the Green Line, Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel denied that he was reprimanded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also said that the project was in its early stages and might still come to fruition.
“No tenders, no construction and no reprimand,” Ariel (Jewish Home) told Channel 2 News on Wednesday night, responding to reports that Netanyahu had called him to order. The prime minister merely spoke to him about the need to abstain from advancing controversial steps that would divert the international community from the Iranian issue, Ariel said.
The Housing and Construction Ministry constantly commissions plans so they can be marketed to contractors, Ariel said. Over a span of several years, it publishes tenders for planning hundreds of thousands of apartments throughout Israel, including in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, he said.
“Unfortunately, this is not construction. It’s the early stage of planning — it’ll be a great success if in five or six years the first apartment emerges from this,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Housing Ministry published the planning tenders, including for 1,200 homes in the controversial E1 corridor linking Jerusalem with Ma’aleh Adumim to the east, drawing harsh responses from the US and Palestinian Authority.
That night, 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, 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.
On Wednesday, Uriel and Netanyahu met to discuss the controversial housing project, Ariel said. “He briefed me on the unique current diplomatic sensitivity.” The prime minister also asked him to stop any plans to build in the E1 corridor. “We’re looking into the matter,” Ariel said. Netanyahu said that “for the time being” the projects could not go ahead, Ariel said, suggesting that in the future they might be advanced once again.
“There is no point in adding steps that are impractical, that talk about the theoretical potential of construction, causing friction with the international community over a matter that is unfeasible,” Netanyahu told the Knesset plenum Wednesday.
Aside from E1, the nixed tenders had applied to settlements both inside and outside major settlement blocs. Those included Kokhav Ya’akov (5,000 units), Ma’aleh Adumim (2,000), Efrat (840), Tekoa (1,180), Shiloh (1,250), Gevaot (1,000) and others, Haaretz reported.
According to settlement watchdog Peace Now, tenders have been issued for 3,472 new settlement units beyond the 1967 lines in the last eight months.