In attempt to relieve the pressure exerted by senior members of the Habayit Hayehudi party and the settlement movement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a meeting on Wednesday to discuss infrastructure development in the West Bank, where the paving of new roads and several other small projects will most likely be approved.
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Senior officials in Habayit Hayehudi and in the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria told Haaretz that at this stage Netanyahu has not yet agreed to their demand to "unfreeze" construction in the settlements.
The discussion is being held in the wake of a meeting Netanyahu held last week with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Housing Minister Uri Ariel. In the course of that meeting, Haaretz revealed, the two Habayit Hayehudi leaders threatened to undermine the government coalition unless Israel lifts the "quiet freeze" on building and planning processes in the settlements.
In addition to Bennett and Ariel, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz will also take part in Wednesday's meeting. According to the meeting's agenda, first revealed by Channel 2 on Sunday, Netanyahu and the ministers will discuss the possibility of approving the paving of 12 new roads in the West Bank, water infrastructure in the settlements, building student villages, parks, and a promenade in Gush Etzion to memorialize the three teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered this summer.
Also on the agenda is the renovation of the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, new electricity infrastructure, settlers' demands to regularize illegal outposts, and laying groundwork in the settlements for future construction.
According to Channel 2, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria is negotiating the construction of 2,000 homes, mostly in the settlement blocs, with the Prime Minister's Office. However, senior officials Habayit Hayehudi and the council noted that, so far, Netanyahu hasn't accepted this demand, and they estimate he will try to appease the settlers with the infrastructure plans as a temporary substitute for their housing demands.
The Channel 2 report on the meeting the prime minister is set to convene was aired a day before the expiration of the time Bennett and Ariel gave Netanyahu to respond to their demand to halt the "quiet freeze" of settlement building and planning processes in the settlements. The two gave Netanyahu until Monday – the opening of the Knesset's winter session – to answer.
In their meeting with Netanyahu last week, Bennett and Ariel demanded the prime minister resume construction immediately, and restart meetings of the Civil Administration’s planning committees. They warned that if he doesn't acceede, the party’s MKs may absent themselves from a no-confidence vote scheduled for Monday. Even if such a move doesn’t lead to a toppling of the government, it would signal serious instability in the coalition.
Though Netanyahu has not yet given a greenlight to the construction plans, coalition and opposition elements have already condemned them. Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who, as mentioned, is set to attend Wednesday's meeting, said he vehemently opposes large-scale construction in the settlements and the regularization of illegal outposts. Carrying out the plan at this point in time would lead to a serious crisis in Israeli-American relations and harm Israel’s international standing, Lapid said.
In response to the Channel 2 report, the Labor Party issued a statement saying Netanyahu is "selling all of Israel's diplomatic interests for a few more months on the prime minister's seat," and called on Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and on Lapid to quit the coalition.