A day after a report surfaced that the prime minister is negotiating a deal with settlement leaders and right-wing lawmakers for a massive settlement development plan, Benjamin Netanyahu’s office refused to confirm or deny the story.
Reached by The Times of Israel Monday morning, the Prime Minister’s Office offered no comment on the Sunday Channel 2 report, which claimed that Netanyahu was set to approve some 2,000 new housing units in the West Bank, along with infrastructure projects, including roads, industrial zones, parks and student villages.
However, a source in the PMO said Netanyahu had ordered the approval of about 1,000 new units in East Jerusalem — about 400 in Ramat Shlomo and 600 in Har Homa.
The source added that Netanyahu would advance road-building projects in the West Bank, saying they would also serve Palestinians.
The Jewish Home party and Yesha settlers council also refused to comment on the Channel 2 report, Israel Radio said.
The report of the large West Bank project drew harsh blowback from some Israeli politicians, including Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who warned the project could hurt ties with the United States.
“This plan will lead to a serious crisis in Israel-US relations and will harm Israel’s standing in the world,” Lapid wrote in a statement. He added that although he does not oppose construction in the settlement blocs, the timing “will cause harm to Israel.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said the plan was “irresponsible, both diplomatically and on the security front.”
But on Monday, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said the plan was not being negotiated in secret and would answer needs for Israelis living over the Green Line, Israel Radio reported.
Edelstein, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, as well as opposition leaders, are expected to address the Knesset Monday afternoon as the parliament kicks off its winter session.
According to the Channel 2 report, the prime minister met with right-wing Housing Minister Uri Ariel and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, of the strongly pro-settlement Jewish Home party, and with Ze’ev Hever, the head of West Bank development company Amana, last Wednesday.
During the meeting, Bennett encouraged Netanyahu to expand the building efforts in the West Bank, arguing that the coalition’s centrist and left-wing parties have made it clear they do not seek new elections in the near future, and would therefore not dissolve the current coalition because of the move.
Following the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office initiated negotiations with the Yesha Council on the new units, the majority of which would permit construction within the settlement blocs, Channel 2 reported.
The report added that the prime minister was slated to discuss the series of dramatic projects with Lapid, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Bennett, and Ariel on Wednesday. It said the ministers were expected to approve the plans.
The keystone of the project would be the approval of 2,000 new units, primarily in settlement blocs, but some also in more remote areas.
Infrastructure projects would include building 12 new roads in the West Bank, establishing three new parks, student villages, the possible post-facto approval of illegal outposts, and refurbishing the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
The list also includes the building of a promenade in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem in memory of three teenagers kidnapped and killed in the area by a Hamas cell on June 12, Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel.
Jewish Home party lawmakers and settlement officials have accused Netanyahu lately of imposing a de facto freeze on construction in the West Bank, with Ariel recently threatening consequences if it was not lifted.
In response to the planned building, a senior diplomatic source told Channel 2: “Netanyahu is likely to encounter a wide international front opposed to building in the settlements. When there are no negotiations [with the Palestinians], Netanyahu’s ability to maneuver is virtually nil.”