Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar vowed on Saturday that the government would continue construction in Jewish communities in the West Bank, amid outrage from settler leaders over the Defense Ministry’s failure to convene the panel responsible for authorizing such building in over five months.
In an interview with Channel 12 news, Sa’ar hinted that Defense Minister Benny Gantz was preventing the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee from meeting as it typically does once every three months.
Gantz is seen as a tepid supporter of West Bank settlements, shifting his views over the years from opposing construction deep in the West Bank to more recently arguing that all Jewish communities in the disputed territories have a “right to exist.”
However, he has also been among the most sensitive in the government to the concerns of the Biden administration, which spoke out vehemently when Israel advanced plans for roughly 2,000 settlement homes last October. Gantz views the support of the US as essential in defending Israel’s security interests and has sought to act accordingly. Over the past year, he has spoken about the importance of advancing settlement building “responsibly.”
Sa’ar told Channel 12 that while he has a good relationship with Gantz, he would put his foot down on the issue of settlements. “In this government. there will be no freeze on settlements in Judea and Samaria, and I intend to insist on that,” he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.
“I hope this matter will be resolved in the coming days,” he said, adding that he has discussed the matter with Gantz several times and that the defense minister is not in favor of a construction freeze.
The five-month gap between High Planning Subcommittee meetings is not all that rare — there were longer gaps even when Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump were in office.
But that has not stopped settler leaders from launching a public campaign to bring down the government. David Elhayani, who chairs the Yesha council umbrella body of settler mayors, is among those campaigning, even after ending his longtime Likud membership to join Sa’ar’s New Hope party in the previous election campaign.
Asked about Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s use of the term “West Bank” during a press conference last week with visiting Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Sa’ar said he is under the assumption that this was a “one-time error,” adding that he only refers to the area as “Judea and Samaria.”
Bennett’s office said the premier used the term accidentally and that no special inferences should be made as a result of the slip.
Sa’ar also rejected Blinken’s use of the phrase “settler violence,” saying settlers are “patriotic, law-abiding citizens” who are among the foremost victims of Palestinian violence. He did, however, acknowledge that there are “marginal forces who need to be dealt with.”
During the recent deadly terror wave of the past week and a half in Israel, there were at least five reported hate-crime attacks targeting Palestinian villages throughout the West Bank. Indictments in such cases are exceedingly rare.