PM pledges West Bank bypass roads for settlers

PM pledges West Bank bypass roads for settlers

Netanyahu says funds will be found even if he has to take them from all ministries, but some settler leaders accuse him of empty promises

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on October 15, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on October 15, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Sunday to pave additional bypass roads for settlers in the West Bank, even if it meant skimming funds from the budgets of all the ministries.

Speaking at a meeting with ministers from his Likud party, Netanyahu promised to promote a plan for the roads’ construction as soon as possible, an official close to the prime minister told The Times of Israel.

The official added that Netanyahu told the ministers that he intended to go through with the project even if it were to require spending cutbacks in other government offices.

The comments were believed to be made in response to criticism from Likud ministers and settler leadership over what they perceive as insufficient settlement construction in the West Bank.

Not all present at Sunday’s meeting were satisfied with the pledge. “There are 10 billion shekels that the state is not using. The bypass roads are a matter of saving lives. There is a way to solve this and we must do so,” said Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on October 15, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90)

The Prime Minister’s Office official present at the sit-down said that Netanyahu did not respond to Gamliel.

The bypass roads were left off the list of construction project set to be advanced on Tuesday and Wednesday by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee — the Defense Ministry body that authorizes building in the West Bank.

The bypass roads create separate routes for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Settlers say these routes are integral for their safety, citing terror attacks that have taken place on roads that run through Palestinian villages. They also argue that they benefit all residents of the West Bank — Jewish and Arab alike — by reducing traffic congestion.

But opponents of these pathways call them discriminatory and argue that they lead to the establishment of illegal outposts that run along these new roads, which are sometimes paved on private Palestinian land.

While settler leaders for years have spoken in one voice in demanding the construction of bypass roads, responses to Netanyahu’s pledge were split.

Binyamin Regional Council chairman and outgoing leader of the Yesha settlement umbrella council Avi Roeh praised Netanyahu in a Sunday statement. “We are pleased that the prime minister is placing the issue of the (bypass) roads in Judea and Samaria on his agenda. Furthermore, we note that the issue of these roads is a strategic issue that impacts our ability to develop settlements throughout Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to the West Bank by its Biblical names.

But Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan once again was not willing to take Netanyahu at his word. Dagan panned the prime minister last week over what he viewed as an insufficient number of housing units set to be approved by the Civil Administration this week, and his Sunday statement responding to Netanyahu’s comments was similar.

“I am sorry, but there are those who are trying to lead us by the nose,” he said.

Yossi Dagan, the head of Shomron Regional Council, addresses the 14th annual B’Sheva Jerusalem Conference on February 12, 2017. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The bypass roads have been promised to us time after time. Promises we have. Roads we do not. The prime minister must commit himself to a clear and imminent date when these bypass roads will be paved. The security of the residents of Judea and Samaria must not be abandoned,” Dagan said.

The Samaria Council head wasn’t the only one attacking Netanyahu from the right on Sunday regarding building over the Green Line.

Jewish Home lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich said the advancement of new West Bank settlement construction has slowed under US President Donald Trump in relation to his predecessor Barack Obama.

“We have arrived at a worse situation under the Trump administration than under the Obama administration,” Smotrich told Israel Radio.

His remarks were in response to the publishing of Civil Administration’s agenda for sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday during which it will be will be advancing plans for roughly 2,000 new housing units.

A quarter of the some 1,2000 houses set to earn final approval are part of projects for evacuees of the illegally built outposts of Ulpana (in Beit El), Migron, and Amona, which were demolished —  in June 2012, September 2012 and February 2017, respectively — after the High Court of Justice ruled they had been built on private Palestinian land.

In addition, a separate Defense Ministry body is set to advance planning for 31 housing units in the Jewish settlement in Hebron on Monday. It would be the first construction approval for the highly contentious settlement in 12 years. The city’s Palestinian municipality is expected to petition the High Court over the expansion, arguing that the settlers have no right to build in the designated area.

Illustrative: Construction in the settlement of Ariel, on January 17, 2014. (Flash 90)

Over half of the housing units set to be advanced would be built outside the so-called “settlement blocs” that Israel has vowed to retain under any future peace deal, with mutually agreed land swaps with the Palestinians.

Responding to the building numbers last week, Dagan harshly criticized Netanyahu and his government. “We need to tell the truth. The emperor has no clothes,” Dagan said in a statement, characterizing Netanyahu as dishonest for breaking previous pledges to settler leaders to advance over 3,000 housing units.

An official from the Prime Minister’s Office deflected the criticism 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 Tuesday statement.

The official went on to assert that building approvals in 2017 are set to be 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 maintained.

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