Netanyahu's Office Denies Approving Hundreds of New Settlement Housing Units

Denying settlement construction, a highly irregular move by Netanyahu, apparently stems from the Palestinian UN bid to condemn settlement building; MK Livni sees denial as admission that settlement construction harms Israel's security.

Reuters

The Prime Minister's Office denied on Thursday that Israel has approved hundreds of new housing units in West Bank settlements and said it merely okayed permits for home improvements.

On Wednesday, Haaretz reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon gave their okay to move forward with the construction of hundreds of housing units in West Bank settlements, including a number in isolated outposts.

"The prime minister and defense minister did not approve new construction," a statement published by the Prime Minister's Office said. "Almost all of the permits are intended for the upgrading of existing buildings."

The statement said however that new housing units were approved in Ganei Modi'in, a settlement located near the West Bank security barrier, which the Prime Minister's Office said "will be a part of Israel in any future agreement."

A denial by Netanyahu concerning settlement construction is considered highly unusual. The reason behind the publishing of the statement seems to be the Palestinian effort to advance a UN Security Council resolution condemning the settlements and declaring them illegal.

Netanyahu is concerned that U.S. President Barack Obama will choose not to veto the Palestinian resolution if it is be brought to a vote. In the current atmosphere, declaring settlement construction could help the Palestinians gather support for their UN bid and may have an impact on Obama's decision whether to veto the measure.

Even though the Palestinians have circulated a draft resolution among UN Security Council members, it still remains unclear if and when they will decide to put for a vote.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is now in Istanbul for a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, is expected to decide on the matter in the coming days, after also visiting Paris, Berlin, Moscow and before arriving in New York next week, on April 21. Arab League foreign minister will meet in New York a day earlier to discuss the Palestinian draft resolution.

Netanyahu believes that, even if there is no vote in the course of Abbas' upcoming visit to New York, there is a high probability that it will be held in the course of the year. On Sunday at a meeting of Likud cabinet ministers, Netanyahu said the Palestinian move had been foreseen. "Even if they don't vote now, it could come up for a vote in the coming months," he said.

In response to Netanyahu's office's statement, Zionist Union Knesset member Tzipi Livni said: "When the prime minister announces today that he is not actually building in the settlements, he is admitting that settlement construction harms security. All that remains is to demonstrate courage [and] say it out loud rather than playing games."