Netanyahu cancels meeting on settlement construction

Officials say move is tied to maintaining stance that Palestinian Authority is responsible for talks stalemate

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Construction in the settlement of Ariel in January 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
Construction in the settlement of Ariel in January 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon Tuesday to cancel a hearing on settlement construction scheduled for the following day.

The directive coincided with the deadline for the US-mediated peace process, amid concerns that should renewed construction be pushed forward, the blame for the collapse of the negotiations would be pinned on Israel, officials told Army Radio.

“We are making great efforts to convince the world that [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] rejects peace, [and] embraces Hamas,” an unnamed official said. “This is a strong card, and it would be wrong to squander this [opportunity]. An announcement on construction now could shift public opinion against us in a second.”

Avi Roeh, chairman of the Yesha Council, an umbrella movement of Jewish settlers, said he was not informed of the decision to push off the discussion indefinitely.

“They didn’t tell us anything,” he told the radio station. Roeh claimed that with regard to such decisions, the West Bank council heads were kept in the dark “because no one includes us: not in the negotiations, and not in these discussions, and not in other discussions.”

“I call on the prime minister to summon us and explain the process,” he said.

The Civil Administration, tasked with overseeing the West Bank, declared 28,000 dunams (6,900 acres) in 40 strategic areas in the West Bank as state land last year, Haaretz reported Tuesday.

The approvals were granted by the Blue Line task force, established by the Civil Administration in 1999 to reevaluate the demarcations of state land. During the 1980s, then-head of the administration Plia Albek designated nearly 1 million dunam (247,000 acres) as state land. The Blue Line task force is investigating all of the approvals granted then that were deemed hastily given and imprecise.

The approvals pave the way for settlements to apply to build on the allotted plots. Many of them are adjacent to existing West Bank settlements, the largest of which is a 3,476-dunam (858 acres) bloc near Ariel. Other areas are close to the Green Line, which could prove a tactical measure to expand the contours of Israel.

Of the recently approved lands, 22,058 dunams are within settlement parameters, and 3,700 include areas that have been developed illegally, but would now be recognized under Israeli law.

However, while the reconsideration of state lands seemingly aids further construction, settlers have complained that the tedious process, under which all construction must first seek higher civil administration permissions, stymies construction.

In a report published Tuesday morning, the left-wing watchdog Peace Now claimed that during the nine months of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s orchestrated negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli government approved tenders and plans for at least 13,851 apartments in the settlements and East Jerusalem.

“This is an unprecedented number representing an average of 50 housing units per day, or 1,540 per month,” the group said.

Jerusalem did not commit to freezing settlement construction during the negotiations when talks were announced nine months ago in July, though it has been a key Palestinian demand.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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