Minister vows to quit coalition if settlement freeze goes ahead
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Minister vows to quit coalition if settlement freeze goes ahead

Uri Ariel, of the Jewish Home party, warns that a halt to building outside of main blocs would ‘not leave us any choice’

Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel attends the 14th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel attends the 14th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jewish Home Minister Uri Ariel said on Thursday he would quit the government if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accedes to reported US demands to freeze West Bank settlement construction outside of the main blocs.

“We never threaten,” Ariel, who holds the agriculture portfolio, told Army Radio. “I don’t want to threaten.” But a decision to freeze settlement building outside the blocs — those areas that hold the bulk of the Jewish West Bank residents and would likely stay under Israel’s jurisdiction in any future peace agreement — would probably “not leave us any choice,” he said.

Asked specifically if he would not sit in a government that prohibited building outside of the blocs, he answered, “You said that.”

“And you confirmed it,” said the interviewer.

“True,” Ariel replied.

It was not immediately clear whether Ariel was speaking on behalf of himself, his two-MK strong Tekuma faction within the Jewish Home party, or the entire eight-seat party on whose votes the coalition depends for its majority.

The minister also said that if those opposed to settlement building were given “a foothold” to freeze construction outside of the blocs, they would then move to stop it within the blocs as well.

Assistant to US President Donald Trump and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt (left) meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)
Assistant to US President Donald Trump and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt (left) meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

During his visit to the region last week, US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt held a pair of lengthy discussions with Netanyahu, in part to reach an understanding on new settlement construction.

According to several Hebrew media reports Wednesday, Greenblatt set out terms under which the US would not oppose the construction of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods over the pre-1967 lines in East Jerusalem, and would accept an agreed number of new homes each year inside the major settlement blocs, while no new homes would be built in isolated settlements. Building in the blocs would be within an agreed annual quota, Greenblatt proposed, according to Channel 2.

Netanyahu reportedly rejected the terms.

Bezalel Smotrich is the other lawmaker to represent Tekuma, which is on the staunch right of the right-wing Jewish Home party.

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