Likud ministers slam Netanyahu over limited settlement construction

Knesset speaker, senior lawmakers say much more building should be approved for the West Bank, along with roads and infrastructure

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a ceremony marking 50 years of settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights, in Gush Etzion, on September 27, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a ceremony marking 50 years of settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights, in Gush Etzion, on September 27, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90)

In an unusual move, senior lawmakers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party implicitly criticized him for the limited construction in the West Bank and accused him of failing to provide necessary infrastructure for settlements.

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, who earlier this week announced that he would run for leadership of the Likud party after Netanyahu steps down, described the settlement movement as a battle for Israel, Channel 2 news reported Tuesday.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz attends a press conference at the Transportation Ministry in Jerusalem on March 14, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I am with you in this entire campaign, on the front lines of the Land of Israel, a front that needs to work to build as much Jewish construction as possible in Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

The Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is to advance plans for roughly 2,000 new housing units when it convenes next week, of which some 1,200 will be receiving final approval, far short of what settler leaders had hoped for. Earlier reports had spoken of 4,000 new units. The plans do not include any bypass roads, industrial estates and infrastructure that settlers had been pushing for.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, also of Likud, criticized the lack of new roads in the building plans and the fact that the government kept postponing construction, Channel 2 reported.

“We are not looking for battles, but we are also not afraid of battles,” he said. “There were all sorts of promises about construction and roads. Suddenly the timing is not quite right and we have to wait for further developments and a few other things. I think the timing will never be right if we don’t know what we want.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein attends a ceremony at the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Welfare Minister Haim Katz also joined in the attack, the report said.

“The government must provide a response to this,” he said. “There can’t be a sense of breaking promises between partners.”

An official from the Prime Minister’s Office deflected criticism Tuesday by settler leaders and provided different numbers for the plans set to be advanced. “According to the agenda published by the High Planning Council, 3,736 housing units will be approved at various stages of planning and construction,” the official said in a statement.

The official went on to assert that building approvals in 2017 are on course to quadruple those of last year. “Those who claim that this is not a significant improvement mislead the public. Those who think that political considerations should not be taken into account are mistaken. There is no one who works more for settlements, with determination and wisdom, than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” the official concluded.

Likud Knesset member and Minister of Welfare and Social Affairs Haim Katz speaks at the “Likudiada”, a gathering of Likud party members and supporters in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, on January 27, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Despite reports of a surge in authorizations for up to 4,000 units, the exact number of housing units that the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee will be advancing during meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday will be 1,941 — with just 1,196 of them up for final approval.

Several of the building plans on the agenda are for existing housing units that the government is working to legalize.

The committee had pushed off its scheduled quarterly meetings for several months to avoid upsetting the Trump administration. On Tuesday, it published its much-speculated-upon agendas for next week’s sessions.

During a closed-door meeting with settler leaders late last month, Netanyahu said that his government was slated to approve over 3,000 housing units. At the time, Netanyahu said US President Donald Trump was prepared to tolerate limited settlement building.

The prime minister then added that he had successfully convinced the Trump administration to drop its distinction between settlement blocs and so-called isolated settlements, as evidenced by the reported list of construction to be approved, which includes settlements located beyond the security barrier.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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