Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman insisted Monday that government ministers were fully apprised of a plan to approve thousands of new housing units in the Palestinian West Bank city of Qalqilya, and slammed politicians for verbal attacks on defense officials over the heated issue.
Contradicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Liberman said the high-level meetings in which ministers were informed of the plan were recorded and transcribed.
Netanyahu’s office earlier said Liberman had failed to present the security cabinet with full details of the potentially explosive plan ahead of a ministerial vote on it last year.
Following media reports of the plan last week, right-wing ministers denounced the scheme with some claiming they were never presented with the details, prompting Netanyahu to announce Sunday that the Qalqilya project would be brought before the security cabinet for a second debate.
Speaking in the Knesset at the weekly meeting of the Yisrael Beytenu faction that he leads, Liberman asserted Monday that a document was distributed to the ministers by a planning committee saying that while 14,000 housing units should be built in the Qalqilya, under Israeli building restrictions a maximum of just 6,187 units could realistically be constructed in the Palestinian city bordering the West Bank security fence.
The defense minister projected that the construction will only start in 2030.
Uproar over the plan from other ministers was tailor-made for “primaries” and “Likud party campaigners,” Liberman accused, a reference to the rightist flank of Likud’s activist base and Central Committee members.
Liberman also said he is not opposed to raising the issue again in the security cabinet. “From my perspective, let them have discussions morning and night,” he added.
“Qalqilya was one of the quiet cities during the last terror wave,” Liberman said. “This was part of the carrot and stick approach [to the Palestinians] that, incidentally, was publicized to the media.”
Surrounded on three sides by Israel’s security barrier, Qalqilya lies opposite the country’s central region only a few kilometers from Kfar Saba, north of Tel Aviv. The trans-Israel highway, Route 6, passes next to the city.
The building plan, first reported by Channel 2 news on Wednesday, would reportedly see 14,000 new apartments built on 2,500 dunams (617 acres) in Israeli-controlled Area C surrounding the city, potentially more than doubling its population, from 50,000 to 110,000.
Speaking at his own faction meeting, Netanyahu said the number of units reported on in the media did not match what was presented to the cabinet, denying the veracity of the press accounts.
“It is very expansive interpretation on a decision that was never taken. We didn’t accept this interpretation and [the number] was never raised,” he said.
He also claimed his government had been the “best ever” for settlement building, pushing back against right-wing claims that he has frozen building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Liberman also scolded other cabinet members and lawmakers for their criticism of the IDF’s alleged involvement in the Qalqilya plan, accusing them of engaging in “wild and dangerous incitement.”
Liberman said some lawmakers had suggested army commanders tried to slip past the security cabinet the full extent of the construction plan, personally attacking Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Yoav Mordechai.
“Ministers and MKs are taking advantage of the fact that those in uniform can’t respond to them, and are allowing themselves, for narrow political reasons, to incite against the commanders of the IDF,” he charged.
Netanyahu also called for critics to stop lashing out at IDF officers.
“IDF officers carry out policy, they don’t lay down policy. That is what I am asking, and if there are arguments to be made — turn to the government, to the defense minister, to the prime minister — but don’t attack the IDF officers,” he said.
Earlier Monday a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office asserted that the protocols of the security cabinet meeting last year when the Qalqilya plan was voted on “prove that the prime minister is correct.”
A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office declined to release the minutes of the meeting, but confirmed to The Times of Israel that Liberman had presented the plan. The PMO statement seemed to suggest the defense minister was responsible for omitting the intention to construct thousands of new Palestinian homes in Qalqilya.
Liberman’s spokesperson declined to comment Monday on the allegation that he had failed to present key details of the plan, and would not say whether the defense minister disputed Netanyahu’s account of the proceedings in the cabinet meeting.
Reports of Netanyahu’s dissatisfaction with the plan surfaced after several right-wing ministers denounced the scheme and claimed it had not been reviewed properly by the cabinet.