Leaders of the Yesha Council of settlements met Wednesday evening with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and asked him to bring an end to the months-long freeze on planning, construction, and marketing of West Bank and East Jerusalem housing.
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According to sources that were present for the meeting, Netanyahu told the settlerment leaders that he has in fact been advancing their cause in recent months. "You have no shield greater than I," he said. "I fight for you."
"But there are international constraints and you know them," he said, according to a source present at the meeting. "Everyone tells me all the time that the peace process is stuck because of the settlements. I reply to them that that's not true and that the real reason is the [Palestinian] refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state."
Yesha heads told Netanyahu, according to sources at the meeting, that the last time tenders for construction in the settlements were published happened after the third round of releasing Palestinian prisoners in January. They added that the planning and construction committee of the West Bank civil administration has not convened in more than three months to discuss projects that are in different phases of completion. They said they have not been able to push forward plans to build public institutions such as schools or kindergartens.
"I was not aware of the damage and suffering it has caused," Netanyahu said according to the source. Netanyahu tried to show sympathy with the Yesha leaders but he did not promise a thing except that he would look into the matter more deeply and consider possible solutions with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit.
The facts presented to Netanyahu did not come as news. After all, it was the prime minister who decided to place a freeze on planning and construction in an attempt to prolong the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – and to maintain the freeze after the talks failed to avoid international condemnation, which could involve economic and political sanctions.
Martin Indyk, the U.S. envoy to the peace talks, said in a speech several weeks ago following the collapse of the talks, that that massive construction in the settlements during the time of negotiations was a central cause for the collapse. Indyk's words together with briefings from White House to the same effect created the sense internationally that Israel was to blame for the collapse.
One of the first consequences was a decision by the German government not to grant Israel hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase German-made missile boats meant to defend Israel's natural gas interests in the Mediterranean. The Germans told Israel that their parliament would not approve such a move in wake of the collapse of the talks.
About 12 regional council heads were present at the meeting including Avi Roe of the Benyamin regional council, Davidi Pearl of Gush Etzion, Gershon Mesika of Shomron, Yohai Damari of Har Hevron, Malachi Levinger of Kiryat Arba, Oded Ravivi of Efrat, Yogal Lahav of Karnei Shomron, Hananel Dorani of Kedumim, and two senior Yesha officials, Ze'ev Hever and Dani Dayan.
Also present at the meeting were Meir Rubenstein, the Haredi mayor of Beitar Illit and regional council heads of Alfei Menashe, Beit El, Har Adar, Givat Ze'ev, and proxy for the mayor of Ariel.