Habayit Hayehudi warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that if construction in the West Bank settlements is not expedited, the party’s MKs may absent themselves during a no-confidence vote scheduled for Monday, the first day of the Knesset’s winter session, a political source said.
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Even if such a move doesn’t lead to a toppling of the government, it would signal serious instability in the coalition.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel met with Netanyahu Wednesday and asked for clarifications regarding construction in the settlements, which they say has been essentially frozen over the past five months. They demanded that the prime minister immediately resume construction, as well as the meetings of the Civil Administration’s planning committees.
A source familiar with what happened at the meeting said that Bennett and Ariel had told Netanyahu that they expect an answer on the matter by Monday, the day the Knesset opens its winter session. There is also a no-confidence motion scheduled for that session, and according to the source, the two hinted to Netanyahu that if their demands were not met, the Habayit Hayehudi MKs were liable to absent themselves during the vote.
The offices of Netanyahu, Bennett, and Ariel all refused to comment on Wednesday’s meeting.
Senior officials of Habayit Hayehudi and the Yesha Council of settlements claim that since the beginning of June, when tenders were published for around 1,000 homes in West Bank settlements in response to the establishment of the Palestinian unity government, there has been an unpublicized freeze imposed on planning and construction procedures in the settlements.
They claim that Netanyahu was the one who ordered Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to stop all planning and construction proceedings under the auspices of the Civil Administration, which controls planning and building everywhere in the West Bank except in East Jerusalem.
As a result, they say, during the past five months there have been no tenders published for settlement construction and the Civil Administration’s planning committees have rarely convened to approve building plans or advance them. Even when the committees did meet, they say, large building plans were repeatedly pulled off the agenda at the last minute. One of the only moves approved in recent months was the declaration in August of some 4,000 dunams (1,000 acres) in the Gush Etzion region as state land.
Settlers: War's over, time to build
For a lengthy period, particularly because of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Habayit Hayehudi and the settlers’ council had avoided making complaints, either publicly or privately. Over the past two weeks, however, they have been pressuring the Prime Minister’s Office to take its foot off the brake and advance settlement construction.
At a synagogue dedication in the settlement of Itamar last week, Ariel warned publicly that if the freeze was not lifted it could destabilize the coalition. He added that halting construction could be interpreted as a prize for terror, and called on the prime minister “not to undermine this coalition and government over a construction freeze. Start building,” he said.
He made similar remarks at a Simhat Torah celebration in Givat Assaf, near Ramallah, two days later.
Based on past experience, it is very likely that the pressure being exerted by Bennett and Ariel will lead Netanyahu to unfreeze some of the planning processes that have been halted. At the end of May, after a similar five-month period in which all planning and construction procedures had been halted, the heads of the Yesha Council met with Netanyahu for two hours and pressured him to continue building.
“You have no greater defender than me. I am fighting for you,” Netanyahu told the Yesha officials at that meeting. “But there are international constraints and you are familiar with them.”
A week later, in response to the establishment of the Palestinian unity government, tenders for some 1,000 homes in various settlements were published.