Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that the 2,500 new West Bank settlement homes approved a day earlier were just a “taste” of things to come now that Barack Obama is no longer in the White House, and said he would discuss the issue with US President Donald Trump.
Taking lawmakers’ questions in the Knesset, Netanyahu said the move came after eight years in which Israel “suffered” from Obama’s “not-one-brick policy,” referring to claims the prime minister has made in the past that the US administration told him it would oppose all new building beyond the Green Line.
“And we are not talking about outposts or even settlement blocs,” Netanyahu told the plenary of the Obama era. “We are talking about here, in Jerusalem. They wouldn’t let us build here either.”
But, the prime minister said, “We are leaving the period. This building [approval] was a taste. We are going to be doing many things differently from now on,” he said.
Netanyahu was taking questions from lawmakers in the Knesset plenum as part of the Question Time format introduced in Israel’s parliament last year. Under the procedure, opposition MKs can choose 10 ministers, including the prime minister, to answer questions once during the legislative year.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Tuesday that Israel had approved the construction of approximately 2,500 homes in the West Bank, most of them in existing settlement blocs it hopes to keep in any peace deal with the Palestinians.
The decision came two days after a Jerusalem planning committee approved the construction of 566 housing units in East Jerusalem, and on the heels of a phone conversation Sunday between Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, in which the two discussed their plans for the region.
Asked at Tuesday’s daily press briefing for a response to Israel’s announcement, White House press secretary Sean Spicer neither approved nor condemned the decision, saying that Trump would discuss the matter when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington next month.
“We’re going to have a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and we’ll continue to discuss that,” he said. “Israel continues to be a huge ally of the United States, he wants to grow closer with Israel, to make sure that it gets the full respect that it deserves in the Middle East.”
Netanyahu on Wednesday confirmed he would speak to Trump about the settlement issue.
But he also seemed to indicate he would not disavow a 2009 speech in which he first announced support for a two-state solution.
“Believing in a certain policy does not mean you have to say everything you plan to do,” Netanyahu said. “I have a clear policy. In order for any possible peace negotiations to be fruitful the Palestinians need to recognize Israel, and they are not willing to, and our territory has to be secured.”
The lack of condemnation marked a dramatic break from the policy of Obama, who routinely castigated Israel for building in such areas.
Trump advisers have indicated the new president does not necessarily see the settlements as illegal and may not subscribe to the view of the two-state solution as the only possible end to the conflict.
Most of the housing units will be built in the large settlement areas, notably in the city of Ariel and in Givat Ze’ev, outside Jerusalem. But some will also go up in settlements outside the larger blocs, due to prior agreements and court decisions.
“We’re building — and will continue to build,” Netanyahu said following the approval.
Palestinians quickly condemned the announcement, calling it “land theft and colonialism.”
In total, 2,502 housing units were approved for construction in settlements across the West Bank, with most in the north.
In the northern West Bank, 899 will be built in the city of Ariel, 292 in the Zufim settlement, 166 in Emanuel, 154 in Oranit, 81 in Etz Efraim, 78 in Alfei Menashe, 18 in Elkana and six in Shaare Tikva, the defense minister’s office said.
In the Jerusalem area, some 652 housing units were approved for the Givat Ze’ev settlement, 104 in Ma’ale Adumim and four in Har Gilo.
In the Etzion settlement bloc, 21 homes were approved for Efrat, and the defense minister okayed 87 housing units for the Beitar Illit settlement, outside Bethlehem.
Outside the larger settlement areas, Liberman and Netanyahu allowed the construction of 86 homes for the former residents of the evacuated Migron settlement, who now live in the Yekev neighborhood of the Kochav Ya’akov settlement, south of Ramallah. The approval was granted in accordance with an agreement between the government and Migron residents.
In addition, 20 homes were approved in the Beit El settlement, north of Ramallah, as part of a High Court of Justice decision, the defense minister said.
— Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report