The US and the Palestinians knew in advance that the release of convicted
Palestinian terrorists would be accompanied by announcements of settlement
construction plans, government officials said Wednesday.
came as Palestinian spokesmen slammed Israel for announcing that final permits
have been given to build more than 1,500 units in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond
the pre-1967 lines and in communities in the large settlement blocs, as well as
preliminary plans to build another 2,000 units in various settlements beyond the
security barrier and the large blocs.
The announcement of the new
settlement plans came soon after a second batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners was
released late Tuesday night.
While the US and the Palestinians did not
know about all the details of what new settlement plans would be announced, they
knew of the intention to announce new plans, as well as the timing, the official
In order to pacify right wing elements inside his coalition,
Netanyahu planned the timing of announcements of new building to coincide with
each of the four batches of prisoner releases that are to take place by April
under an agreement that led in July to the restarting of talks with the
Palestinians. Some 104 convicted terrorists are to be released in four stages,
two of which have now been carried out.
According to a Channel 2 report,
on July 19, the day that Israel approved US Secretary of State John Kerry’s
framework for restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Netanyahu agreed with
Kerry that every time the prisoners would be released, there would be an
announcement of new settlement construction plans to make the bitter pill easier
to swallow for some of his coalition partners.
According to the report,
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett knew this was the agreement, but still came
out strongly against the recent release of prisoners, as well as against linking
their release to construction in the settlements.
Bennett’s party issued
a statement Thursday on the prisoner release, saying “the attempt to link the
release of the murderers to construction tenders is manipulative and morally
wrong. It will be better if the prime minister does not release murderers and
does not build. This looks like a despicable attempt to free murderers and
tarnish the settlement enterprise.”
Bennett’s public opposition to the
move has strained his ties with Netanyahu and caused friction inside the
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, the spokesman for Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas, reacted harshly to the plans for more construction in
east Jerusalem and the settlements, saying the announcement “destroys the peace
process and sends the international community the message that Israel does not
respect international law.”
Ophir Akunis, the Likud deputy minister for
liaison with the Knesset, gave details of the settlement plans in the government
According to Akunis, Netanyahu gave the final nod to begin
construction of hundreds of units in Jerusalem, Karnei Shomron, Ariel, Givat
Ze’ev, Ma’aleh Adumim, Elkana, Betar Illit and Adam. He said that 1,500 units
would be built in Ramat Shlomo, the units that triggered a mini-crisis in
Israel- US relations in 2010 when preliminary plans for that project were
announced during the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden.
Netanyahu gave the final go-ahead for plans to build a national park area east
of Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus between the neighborhoods of Isawiya
and E-Tur, as well as a tourism and archeological center opposite the entrance
of the City of David in Silwan.
Government officials pointed out that all
the plans that received final approval were in settlements inside the large
Akunis also announced preliminary plans to build
another 2,000 units in settlements outside the blocs, including Shiloh, Alei
Zahav, Yakir, Mehola, Talmon, Har Bracha, Ofra, Kfar Adumim and Beit
UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon blasted Israel’s announcement to
advance settlement construction, calling the move “contrary to international
law” and saying it constituted “an obstacle to peace.”
stated his appreciation for Israel’s undertaking the “difficult step” of
releasing the second batch of pre-Oslo prisoners amid “deep domestic opposition”
as a gesture for continuing peace talks with the Palestinian
He added that the UN expected parties to promote conditions
conducive to a successful negotiation process and refrain from actions that
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.