Outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed on Sunday that the U.S. government had demanded Israel immediately freeze construction in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Arnona and Givat Hamatos, which are beyond the Green Line, as well as in settlements and "new Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem."
Netanyahu divulged the American demands during a speech to the Knesset ahead of the vote approving the new government: “Apart from Iran, the second challenge we face is preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state that threatens our existence. The new administration in the United States has already revived efforts in this direction,” Netanyahu said.
“It has already demanded that we now freeze settlement building in Judea and Samaria and freeze construction of new Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. I firmly rejected an appeal to freeze construction in Arnona and Givat Hamatos.”
Netanyahu said he also firmly rejected U.S. plans to re-open an American Consulate in East Jerusalem, which is supposed to, among other things, serve the Palestinian public. The opening of the consulate, along with plans to allow the Palestinian Authority to re-open its embassy in Washington, is part of the confidence-building measures that the Biden administration is taking to strengthen relations with the PA.
Netanyahu warned that the United States’ plans to re-open the facility in Jerusalem “will put the division of Jerusalem back on the agenda.” He said, “I told them, you want to establish a consulate, do it in Abu Dis, not in sovereign Jerusalem.”
The outgoing prime minister also warned that the Bennett-Lapid government would find it difficult to pursue tough policies vis-à-vis world powers to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He said he rejected an American request to keep their disagreements over Iran private. He added that Bennett's government, new to power, would hesitate to take actions to frustrate the Iranian nuclear program.
“The minute the United States returns to the nuclear agreement with Iran, the incoming government won’t approve major operations inside Iran to prevent its continued arming. At most, the members of the government will make tepid declarations,” Netanyahu warned.
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“We cultivated special relations with Russia, close and direct ties with the president of Russia, by which we have been ensured freedom of action for the [Israeli] air force in Syrian skies to prevent Iran’s entrenchment,” Netanyahu said about his term.
“This systematic policy brought an unprecedented diplomatic flowering, in which many countries have sought to grow closer to us,” Netanyahu concluded. “We have built alliances with countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, India, Japan, Brazil and countries like Greece and Cyprus."
In response, Benny Gantz, who was defense minister in Netanyahu’s last government and will remain at the post in the new one, slammed the speech and blamed the former prime minister for harming Israeli relations with the U.S.
Speaking to the Knesset, Gantz said, “No political undertaking justifies your breaking of the ranks and an open confrontation with the United States – our greatest friend – that you’ve created for your own political needs. I promise you, outgoing prime minister, I promise all of you – we will continue to strengthen ties with the United States, our most important ally, and work together with the administration to ensure that Iran will never have nuclear weapons. We will ensure that Israel has the military option to defend itself.
We will continue to encourage the forces of moderation, among them the Palestinian Authority, to ensure stability and peace. We know how to emerge victorious from every challenge…The message we are broadcasting to our enemies is critical: Anyone who challenges Israel will be answered forcefully, in the time and place that we choose. I suggest to anyone making any plans to put them back in the drawer.”