Ya’alon: After Obama, a West Bank construction boom

In closed-door meeting, defense minister says settlements already the fastest-growing towns in Israel, despite US protests

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in the Knesset on December 8, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in the Knesset on December 8, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Israeli students Tuesday that although the US has been holding Israel back in some aspects of settlement construction, the Jewish population in the West Bank has been growing apace, and a future Washington administration could enable even more expansion.

“I hope that it is temporary, because at the moment there is a certain government in the US, the US is laying down the rules” regarding construction in the West Bank, Ya’alon said in a recording obtained by Army Radio. “That administration won’t remain forever and I hope it will be temporary.”

Ya’alon made the comments during a closed-door meeting with students at the Makor Haim yeshiva high school in the West Bank and was apparently unaware that the meeting was being recorded. He has had several run-ins with the Obama administration over the years and received the cold shoulder from several top officials during a recent visit to Washington.

Asked by the students why Israel had scaled back its settlement construction, Ya’alon assured them that it was, in fact, still going ahead, and that the West Bank sported the most rapid population growth in Israel.

“I know the numbers. In the last year the settlements in the West Bank grew by 20,000 people; there is no increase like that anywhere else in the country,” he said.

The only impact that the US government has had was in halting the publication of new tenders, Ya’alon continued, noting that plans that have already been approved are still going ahead. However, in light of its weak standing in the international community, Israel was being cautious in its settlement policy, he said.

“The publication of construction plans, even in Jerusalem, draws a response from various bodies, including our friends, that attack us,” he said. “I very much want to also approve these plans and build more, but at the moment this issue of plans that require publication [of tenders] and construction draws a response, first of all American and after that from others. We are being very careful to not push things too far.”

In the wake of the publication of Ya’alon’s comments, his bureau issued a statement saying that while there was tension with the US on some matters, the bilateral defense relationship remained strong.

“Alongside unprecedented security relations with the US, there is a dispute between the two governments, but they are not damaging to the relationship between the two countries,” the statement said, according to Channel 2.

In October Ya’alon launched a scathing assessment of the Obama administration‘s wrongheadedness on the Middle East during an interview with the Washington Post at the end of a trip to the United States.

Ya’alon castigated what he called a misconception — most recently voiced by US Secretary of State John Kerry – that the failure to solve the Palestinian conflict was provoking extremism elsewhere in the region. He rejected the notion — at the core of Kerry’s failed peace efforts — that territorial concessions by Israel would resolve the Palestinian conflict, calling it “irrational.” And he dismissed the idea — central to the vision of this and other recent US administrations — that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a partner for peace.

During Ya’alon’s visit US officials were quoted as confirming that requests to meet with Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and other senior officials were rebuffed by the administration — apparently in punishment for previous critiques aired by Ya’alon and other senior Israeli government ministers.

Earlier this year, Ya’alon infuriated officials in Washington with comments accusing the administration of being weak on Iran and questioning the US commitment to Israel’s security. That followed reports that Ya’alon had criticized Kerry for being unrealistic and “messianic” in trying to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and that the defense minister had dismissed Kerry’s West Bank security proposals as unworkable.

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