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Likud denies Netanyahu said West Bank construction frozen

Ruling party denies settlers’ claims that diplomatic pressure has halted Jewish expansion beyond Green Line

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit (R) and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz  at the weekly government conference in Jerusalem on July 12, 2015.  (Emil Salman/POOL/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit (R) and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz at the weekly government conference in Jerusalem on July 12, 2015. (Emil Salman/POOL/Flash90)

The Likud party denied Tuesday reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told West Bank Jewish leaders that international pressure effectively froze settlement development in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

During a closed section of a Likud faction meeting Monday, the prime minister reportedly said Jewish settlements could “no longer be developed and we must preserve that which exists.”

According to local council leaders, Netanyahu made the remarks after a heated discussion regarding a building project in the settlement of Beit El that the High Court of Justice ruled would be demolished because it was built on private Palestinian land.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu’s Likud party issued a statement rebuffing the reports, stating that “the prime minister said he would advance housing projects in Beit El by evacuating a nearby Border Police base,” according to a report in Ynet.

“Contrary to reports, the prime minister did not rule out construction in Judea and Samaria. Rather, he said he supports the settlement enterprise with wisdom and responsibility despite the complex international reality,” it said using the Biblical name for the West Bank.

The issue of settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem strained last year’s US-led efforts to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. After the talks broke down in April, Palestinian officials claimed Israeli construction in areas beyond the 1967 Green Line sabotaged a potential peace deal.

Following Monday’s meeting, the Yesha Council, which represents the settler movement, issued a scathing statement saying “a government that does not build loses its right to exist.”

The council rejected assertions that a halt to construction would help preserve existing settlements. “The right way to protect the settlement project is only through development and construction. The best defense is offense.”

The head of the Har Hebron regional council, Yohai Damari, also issued a statement saying “the prime minister stated his intent to halt the settlement initiative.”

Damari said such action would “desperately hurt many communities.”

Both the Yesha Concil and Damari called on government ministers to prevent a construction freeze.

At the end of last month, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki handed International Criminal Court prosecutors a file detailing settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

The Israeli government has said it will respond to the ICC’s investigation on the matter.

Israeli officials maintained, however, that their communications with the ICC probe will only be to reaffirm the government’s stance that the Palestinian Authority, as a non-state actor, does not have the right to open a case against Israel, the report said.

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