Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Sunday that he had thwarted efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to interfere in the work of the Defense Ministry by trying to stop Gantz’s plan to secure approval for Palestinian construction in Area C, the portion of the West Bank under full Israeli control.
The Prime Minster’s Office has denied Gantz’s claim.
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The conflicting accounts relate to a committee meeting on Sunday of the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank, which had several requests on its agenda from Palestinians seeking permission to carry out construction in Area C. The committee’s consideration of the requests followed years in which only a small number of similar requests were approved.
The deputy director general for planning and development at the Prime Minister’s Office, Lior Farber, called a senior Civil Administration officer at the beginning of the meeting. Gantz claimed that Farber was demanding that the meeting be stopped, but the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying that Farber was only calling to ascertain if the meeting had begun.
Gantz described the call as “irregular interference by the Prime Minister’s Office with Israeli army officials on a matter within the sole purview of the defense minister.” The defense minister said he has instructed security officials and the Civil Administration, which falls within his area of responsibility, to communicate only “through accepted channels.”
“I will not allow the Prime Minister’s Office to bypass authority,” Gantz said. “The activities of the committee are under the authority of the defense minister. There are work rules. The convening of the meeting had been decided upon already last week. There is no need to do harm to proper procedure as it is being carried out. If the prime minister wants to raise objections, he knows my (telephone) number.”
Gantz, the leader of the Kahol Lavan party, has been at odds with Netanyahu since the formation of the coalition government in May. Last month, when the Knesset failed to pass a budget, the Knesset was dissolved and new elections called for March.
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On Sunday morning, Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Asher Hayun, sent a protest letter to Michael Biton, the minister responsible for civil and social affairs at the Defense Ministry, over the convening of the Civil Administration committee meeting. Hayun claimed that the meeting should have been coordinated in advance with the Prime Minister’s Office.
Gantz announced his intention a week ago to move ahead with consideration of several Palestinian projects for Palestinians. They include the filing of plans for public comment for the expansion of two Palestinian villages near Jerusalem, Walaja and Hizma; confirmation of a plan for a hotel in the Bethlehem area; consideration of a plan for another hotel in Beit Jala near Bethlehem; and consideration of an application for retroactive approval of agricultural buildings in the Far’a area of the Jordan Valley.
In a letter to Gantz at the end of last week, Settlement Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) demanded that he cancel the meeting and that the plans be brought to the security cabinet for approval. “Perusal of these plans, consideration of which you approve, reveals that they may include plans that were disqualified by the security cabinet in the past,” Hanegbi wrote. “It also turns out that these plans might strategically impact Israeli interests in Area C.”
Hanegbi’s letter was sent after the Civil Administration committee reduced the number of Palestinian projects on its agenda after groups promoting Jewish settlement in the West Bank objected to a number of the items on the agenda that was initially made public.
Meanwhile, Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank advanced plans for construction of 792 homes in the settlements on Sunday, including 415 that received final approval.
Among other things, the agency advanced plans to retroactively legalize two illegal outposts that will be defined as neighborhoods of existing settlements – the Nofei Nehemia outpost in the settlement of Rahelim and the Havat Yair outpost in Yakir.
It also advanced plans to build 107 homes in Tel Menashe, the settlement where Esther Horgan lived until she was killed last month. Ever since her murder, settlers have been waging a campaign to expand the settlement.
The plans granted final approval included one for 152 homes in Shavei Shomron and another for 123 housing units in Itamar. Both settlements lie fairly deep inside the West Bank.
“At a time when the entire country is under lockdown, this terrible government is continuing to serve a tiny, vocal minority by advancing harmful, unnecessary construction,” Peace Now said in a statement. It added that the move “is intended to signal the new administration in the United States that Israel isn’t headed toward peace, and it will lead to unnecessary conflicts with the president-elect.”
The United Nations also condemned the approval of new settlement homes, slamming the decision as "contrary to international law" saying it "undermines the prospects of a viable two-state solution."
"At this critical juncture for peace in the Middle East, these moves are also counterproductive in light of the positive developments of normalisation agreements between Israel and a number of Arab States," the statement added.