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Housing minister vows to keep building in West Bank

Uri Ariel says there is no area in which construction will stop, does not discount possibility of annexation

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Then housing minister Uri Ariel (second from right) and then deputy transportation minister Tzipi Hotovely (right) during visit to the settlement of Kochav Yaakov in August 2013 (photo credit: Sasson Tiram/ Ministry of Housing and Construction)
Then housing minister Uri Ariel (second from right) and then deputy transportation minister Tzipi Hotovely (right) during visit to the settlement of Kochav Yaakov in August 2013 (photo credit: Sasson Tiram/ Ministry of Housing and Construction)

As controversy grows around Israeli plans to build in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel promised more construction on both sides of the Green Line.

The statement came a day before peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are set to restart in Jerusalem, amid threats from Ramallah that negotiations may collapse if settlement construction is not curbed.

While touring a settlement north of Jerusalem, Ariel, from the right-wing Jewish Home party, also spoke about the possibility of annexing parts of the West Bank.

“There is no difference between Judea and Samaria and the rest of the country,” he said, using the Israeli term for the West Bank. “We will build everywhere.”

Ariel made his comments during a visit to the settlement of Kochav Yaakov, just north of Jerusalem in the West Bank. He was joined by Deputy Minister of Transportation Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), Yesha (Settlers) Council CEO Avi Roeh, and Ze’ev Hever, who heads the settlement residential construction company Amana.

“In Judea and Samaria, and across the state of Israel, thousands of housing units will be built in the coming year,” Ariel promised. “We will strive to build more in every part of the country. There is no area we won’t build in. It is unimaginable that there would be an area in which they dictate to us whether or not to build.”

Ariel’s comments come on the heels of the Housing Ministry’s announcement Sunday that it had approved the construction of 1,200 apartments in settlement blocs and Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line. A day later, news emerged that the state had secretly approved an additional 900 new housing units to be built near Gilo in East Jerusalem, extending the neighborhood toward a Palestinian area.

The approvals drew wide condemnation, with senior Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabo warning the move could kill the peace talks before they even get off the ground, and US Secretary of State John Kerry saying Washington viewed the move as illegitimate.

“I think that what this underscores, actually, is the importance of getting to the table and getting to the table quickly and resolving the questions with respect to settlements, which are best resolved by solving the problems of security and borders,” Kerry said from Colombia, where he is visiting. “Once you have security and borders solved, you have resolved the question of settlements.”

Ariel, however, said the international community would not tell Israel where it can and cannot build.

“The state does not need permission in order to build in every place in the Land of Israel, not in Jerusalem, which is the capital of Israel, the holy city. Not in Tel Aviv and not in Ariel or in Karnei Shomron,” he said, referencing two large settlements part of a controversial bloc that juts deep into the West Bank.

In response to a question about the annexation of the West Bank, Ariel said that “there is certainly room to consider it and also to do it.”

Hotovely also expressed her support for the building plans. “A country needs to stand up for its principles and build because building is life,” she said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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