Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday abruptly halted a plan to explore the construction of nearly 24,000 new settler homes in the West Bank, just hours after his housing minister announced the controversial planning process.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday abruptly halted a plan to explore the construction of nearly 24,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem just hours after his housing minister announced the controversial planning process, sparking an international outcry.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Netanyahu said he had asked Housing Minister Uri Ariel "to reconsider" plans for potential construction of new homes for Jewish settlers noting that Ariel, a member of the pro-settlement Jewish Home Party, had drawn up the plan “without any advance coordination”.
The Israeli leader’s strongly worded statement said the plan was “a meaningless step – legally and in practice – and an action that creates an unnecessary confrontation with the international community at a time when we are making an effort to persuade elements in the international community to reach a better deal with Iran.''
The statement said Ariel had accepted the request.
Amid mounting Israeli concerns over the international nuclear negotiations with Iran, which could result in the easing of sanctions, Netanyahu has stressed that pressure on Tehran should be increased, not eased, until Iran dismantles its nuclear programme.
Israel is widely believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, although Israeli officials neither confirm nor deny the speculation. Netanyahu is concerned that any shift in the international community’s position on Iran could change the strategic balance in the region.
Abbas gets on the phone to Kerry
Shortly after the news of Housing Minister Ariel’s shock announcement broke earlier Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the current stalled peace talks would effectively be over if Israel proceeded with the plan.
According to the Israeli daily, Haaretz, Abbas discussed the issue with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi as well as members of the Middle East Quartet, which includes the US, the UN, the EU and Russia.
Kerry had warned that Israel’s continued settlement construction raised questions about the Jewish state’s seriousness about pursuing peace, in an interview broadcast on Israeli and Palestinian TV last week.
Responding to Ariel’s announcement on Tuesday, the US State Department said it was "deeply concerned" by the news and was demanding explanations from Israel.
The contentious issue of settlement construction has been at the heart of the stalled Mideast peace process in recent years.
The Palestinians want their state to include all the land captured by Israel in the 1967 war, which includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. But more than 500,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law and have been a deeply divisive issue between Israel and the international community.
‘There is no E1. I won't hear of it’
Netanyahu’s latest backtracking of an announcement by his own housing minister has exposed the divisions within his administration.
According to Haaretz, details of the new settlement plan – which included the construction of 1,200 units in the controversial E1 area between Jerusalem and the Ma'ale Adumim settlement in the West Bank – landed on Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit's table Tuesday morning.
Sources close to Netanyahu told the Israeli daily that Mendelblit went right away to the PM’s office to update him. "Netanyahu immediately told Mendelblit to tell [Housing Minister] Uri Ariel there is no E1. I won't hear of it," the source told Haaretz.
According to the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now, Netanyahu's government has given final approval for nearly 3,500 new homes in Jewish settlements since taking office last March. In addition, it has promoted plans for nearly 9,000 additional homes.
Peace talks resumed in late July after a nearly five-year break when the Palestinians, bowing to intense US pressure, dropped a longstanding demand for a halt in settlement construction.
To lure the Palestinians back to the table, Israel agreed to release 104 of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners, all convicted in violent attacks on Israelis, in four phases. The Palestinians also say they received assurances that settlement construction would be constrained.
Date created : 2013-11-13