Israel’s Housing Ministry announced Wednesday that it was advancing plans for 1,500 new housing units in Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem in response to the establishment of a new Palestinian unity government.
The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo – Photo: AP
Israel has vowed to take punitive action in response to the Palestinian unity government formed last week because it is backed by the militant group Hamas.
The housing tenders announced Wednesday include construction of 400 units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in Jerusalem plus an additional 1,100 units in various settlements throughout Judea and Samaria, most of them within the large settlement blocs.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel said in a statement on Thursday that the move was a “fitting Zionist response to the formation of a Palestinian terror government.” He said the housing plans were “just the beginning.”
Justice Minister and chief Israeli peace negotiator Tzipi Livni told Army Radio meanwhile that “the settlement construction is yet another diplomatic blunder that will only serve to weaken our ability to enlist the world against Hamas.”
To this, Ariel responded that “the approved construction is too little too late. Construction needs to be carried out all the time, as a matter of routine. That is the policy of the government of Israel. Certainly the prime minister and other ministers are in favor of construction in Jerusalem. I haven’t heard anyone coming out against it.”
A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also remarked on the announcement, saying that the Palestinian government would issue “an unprecedented response.”
The newly-announced construction is unusual in its scope, particularly coming after a long period in which no construction plans were approved in Judea and Samaria. According to one senior official, “the moment the peace negotiations [between Israel and the Palestinians] collapsed, and a Palestinian unity government was established, as far as Israel is concerned, the understandings with the Americans regarding the talks are no longer relevant.”
The announcement sparked a firestorm across the political spectrum, with Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) expressing disappointment with the move, declaring that “once again, this government proved how fundamentally flawed its priorities are.”
“Instead of investing the funds in building up the Negev, Galilee or any of the poor neighborhoods, [the government] has opted to thumb its nose at Barack Obama and engage in diplomatic pyromania,” Herzog told Walla news.
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On called on Netanyahu to “stop the price-tag attacks perpetrated by the government of Israel.” In her view, the construction of 1,500 new housing units is a “needless provocation.”
“Not only is the State of Israel undergoing diplomatic collapse and facing international isolation, the world’s recognition of the [Palestinian] government of technocrats is growing. The construction will result in Israel becoming more isolated and shunned by the world. It is time for Netanyahu to recognize reality and approach this unity government as an opportunity to advance Israel’s existential interests,” Gal-On said.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud) welcomed the announcement, saying, “I commend the government on its decision to market 1,500 new housing units. However, this is only a drop in the bucket, and alone, will not address the most minimal needs or ensure a Jewish majority in the capital.”
“I call on the government to lift all the restrictions on construction. While Abbas is embracing Hamas terrorists, we need to stop being suckers and start looking out for national Israeli interests rather than Palestinian interests,” Elkin added.
MK Omer Bar-Lev (Labor), however, criticized the move, saying that “the very use of punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority is senseless and unwise, and will harm Israeli’s foreign relations.”
“It is far worse when we use construction as a penalty. We are shooting ourselves in the foot, endangering the future of the settlement blocs and turning them into something foul in the eyes of the international community. This is part of the prime minister’s failing policies, and the failed policies of the entire government in terms of public diplomacy and international legitimacy.”
View original Israel Hayom publication at: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=17965