A week after peace talks resume || Bennett: Israel will renew construction in Jerusalem in coming days
In interview with Arutz Sheva, economy minister says there is no construction freeze, but sources in the Housing and Construction Ministry say they are unaware of concrete agreement for renewal of construction in the Israeli capital.
Tenders for renewed construction in Jerusalem will be issued in the coming days, Economy Minster Naftali Bennett announced on Sunday, a week after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed long-stalled peace talks.
“We insisted that there be no construction freeze. Construction will continue,” Bennett said, during an interview with the settler-run news service Arutz Sheva. Bennett, who is also the chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi party, added that he hoped the tenders would be issued on a large scale.
The renewal of construction in Jerusalem would be a test for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett said, noting that his party would “not be part of a government that freezes construction in our country.”
He categorically denied media reports that Habayit Hayehudi had agreed to the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for construction of 1,000 new housing units in the settlements.
“Ironically, in Jerusalem of all places, construction was stopped and we will be unplugging this blockage at this time,” Bennett said.
However, sources close to Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) said there had been no concrete agreement for a renewal of construction in Jerusalem. “At the moment there are 2,500 units ready to be marketed in the Jerusalem area and we will market them at the first possible moment. However, at this time we know of no date at all for this to happen.” The sources said that Ariel has given a directive to the Jerusalem District of his ministry “to prepare for the marketing of land in the city as if it can be done tomorrow morning.” The sources said there had been numerous planning problems but the plans were now ready.
When Ariel took up his ministerial post he pledged that the Housing and Construction Ministry would market land in Jerusalem during 2013.
In November 2012, two tenders were published marketing land in Pisgat Ze’ev, northeast of the capital and in the northwestern neighborhood of Ramot. Each of these tenders includes about 600 housing units. However, the results have not yet been released, apparently because of the freeze.
Four more tenders are expected to be published: for 797 units on the western slopes of the southern neighborhood of Gilo; 1,200 units in Gilo’s southwestern portion; 100 units between Gilo and the neighborhood of Beit Safafa and between 1,000 and 2,000 units in Har Homa Gimel, southeast of Jerusalem.
As revealed by Haaretz recently, Netanyahu informed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel would be moving ahead with the construction of 1,000 new housing in the settlements during the peace talks. Israel rejected a Palestinian demand for a total freeze on construction in the settlements in the run-up to the talks.
However, Netanyahu told Kerry that he would continue the policy he had followed since March 2013, during which time only a few hundred new housing units have been approved, mainly in the major settlement blocs. According to the understandings before the talks began, Israel would move ahead on tenders for the construction of only 1,000 new units and only in the major settlement blocks – Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion. These units were part of government tenders issued by the Housing and Construction Ministry after the Palestinian statehood bid in the United Nations but which didn’t go ahead due to technical faults. They will now be reissued. Other than these 1,000 units, there is to be no new government construction in the settlement blocs or announcements of construction.
Moreover, no new master plans involving private construction are to be approved by the defense minister in the isolated settlements. In cases where the master plans have already been approved and further authorization by the defense minister is required before construction can commence, such authorization will not be forthcoming. Private construction approved by a regional council in the territories will be allowed to proceed. The only way to stop such construction would be by publication of a special order by the IDF’s GOC Central Command, as was the case during the previous freeze. Netanyahu refused to approve the issue of stop-work orders and the Israeli government will deny any reports of its consent, either quietly or publicly, to a freeze on construction in the settlements, according to the understandings.