Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked warned that she would leave the coalition government if it agreed to a request from the Biden administration to implement a building freeze in West Bank settlements.
In an interview published Friday in the Makor Rishon newspaper, Shaked was asked what her “red lines” are, which would lead her to leave and destabilize Israel’s new government.
“If the government does something that is ideologically serious in my view, we will not be a part of it. For example, if the US administration demands a freeze in Judea and Samaria — there will be no government,” the Yamina MK said, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.
There has been no such request yet from the Biden administration which has been careful not to stress the new coalition. It is also unlikely that the government, currently headed by Yamina leader Naftali Bennett would agree to such a freeze.
Settler leaders have said that they have been assured that under the coalition agreement that brought together eight ideologically diverse parties there was an agreement that there would be no freeze on building in the West Bank.
Ahead of the formation of the government that includes several right-wing parties, centrists, left-wing parties and the Islamist Ra’am party, leaders said that there was an agreement there would be no major steps regarding the settlements in either direction.
The right would not push for annexation and the left would not push for a withdrawal.
“No one will be asked to give up their ideology, but everyone will have to postpone the realization of some of their dreams. We will focus on what can be done, instead of arguing over what is impossible,” Bennett said at the time.
The Palestinian Authority has previously requested a freeze on settlement construction as a pre-condition to negotiations. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu once agreed to a 10-month freeze during the Obama administration’s peacemaking efforts.
In an interview with The Times of Israel last month, David Elhayani, who heads the Jordan Valley Regional Council and the Yesha umbrella council of settlement mayors, said that settler leaders were told that right-wing party heads in the coalition reached agreements with Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid to ensure that in addition to no construction freeze, the Defense Ministry body that authorizes settlement construction will continue to meet on a quarterly basis.
Bennett himself is a former head of the Yesha Council, an umbrella advocacy group of West Bank settlements.
An agreement struck with the Trump administration unofficially codified that the Defense Ministry body would meet four times a year to approve construction plans. However, there have periodically been gaps lasting longer than three months between sessions during diplomatically sensitive periods, such as the normalization agreements Israel struck with several Arab countries last year.
US President Joe Biden’s entry into the White House appears to be another one of those sensitive moments where Israel has been wary to test its ties with the US by approving new construction in the West Bank, which the White House says would make a two-state solution harder to achieve.
Shaked told Makor Rishon that Israel would try and maintain the understandings reached with Trump.
“Our goal is that the situation under Trump will also continue under Biden,” she said, adding that Israel plans to continue to try and legalize some of the wildcat settlement outposts.
The international community regards all Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal but Israeli law differentiates between settlements permitted by the Defense Ministry and outposts established without permission, often by ideologically motivated youths. Many settlements started life as illegal outposts and only gained retroactive government approval after reaching a critical mass of residents.
The government showed its ability to compromise on the issues earlier this month when it reached a deal on the voluntary evacuation of settlers from the Evyatar outpost, under an agreement that kept it intact and would see an attempt made to legalize it in the future.