Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Thursday a harsh US condemnation of Israeli building plans in the West Bank was “disproportionate,” and she called for increased settlement construction.
On Wednesday, Obama administration officials upbraided Israel for plans to build nearly 100 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh to compensate homeowners in the nearby outpost of Amona ahead of its court-ordered evacuation and demolition.
Shaked, from the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, said the US should focus its condemnation on Syria “rather than criticizing where Israel builds houses.”
“When the Middle East is in flames, when on the borders of Jordan and Syria dozens of men, women and children are slaughtered,” making a statement like this “over a decision by the Defense Ministry to build a few dozen homes for the residents of Amona is completely out of proportion,” she told Army Radio.
“I think we need to build in Judah and Samaria,” she said, using the biblical term for the West Bank.
Last week, the Defense Ministry Civil Administration’s Planning Authority approved the 98 homes to be built to replace the slated-to-be-razed Amona outpost, according to a Channel 2 report.
The approval went largely unnoticed due to the death of former Israeli president Shimon Peres earlier that day.
An additional 200 units were scheduled to be approved by the authority at a later date, according to the report.
On Wednesday, the White House strongly condemned the West Bank construction, accusing Israel of a betrayal of trust, in an unusually sharp rebuke.
“We did receive public assurances from the Israeli government that contradict this announcement,” press secretary Josh Earnest said.
“I guess when we’re talking about how good friends treat one another, that’s a source of serious concern as well.”
In a similarly strongly worded statement, the State Department said building the units “is another step toward cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation.”
The plan not only undermines hopes for peace with the Palestinians but “is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,” spokesman Mark Toner said.
In a response following the statements, Israel’s Foreign Ministry contended that the construction was not a new settlement.
“The 98 housing units approved in Shiloh do not constitute a ‘new settlement,’” the ministry said in a statement. “This housing will be built on state land in the existing settlement of Shiloh and will not change its municipal boundary or geographic footprint.”
The ministry also reiterated Israel’s stance that the settlements are not the main cause of the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.
“The real obstacle to peace is not the settlements – a final status issue that can and must be resolved in negotiations between the parties — but the persistent Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state in any boundaries,” the statement said.
Shaked said that while Jerusalem cared what the US administration thinks, it had to act in its own best interests.
“The US is a good friend, we are partners and we pay attention to what they say. But at the end of the day Israel has to do what is best for [the country],” she said.
AFP contributed to this report.