A view of Ma'aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Opposition MKs took over the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus Monday and used it as a forum for attacking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not building in Ma’aleh Adumim, where construction has not taken place in six-and-a-half years.
Normally, the caucus is dominated by Likud and Bayit Yehudi MKs, but Monday, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson stole the show and pushed Netanyahu to build in the city that is considered among the settlements that a broad consensus of Israelis believe will remain part of Israel under any peace agreement.
Hasson waved a copy of the letter that then-US president George W. Bush wrote then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 recognizing that settlement blocs would remain part of Israel in return for Israel withdrawing from the Gaza Strip. Hasson used the written commitment as proof that Sharon helped West Bank settlement blocs more than Netanyahu, even though the letter was rejected by Bush’s successor, Barack Obama.
“This is one big bluff,” Hasson told the heads of the right-wing caucus.
“You have been in power for years, but you haven’t been able to change the reality. If you really cared about Ma’aleh Adumim, you would threaten to leave the coalition if building doesn’t resume.”
Hasson called upon Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel to switch his affiliation from the Likud to the Zionist Union, because it would build more in the blocs.
“For years you trusted your friends in the Likud to help you, but they sold you out for a few more caravans in the Esh Kodesh outpost,” the MK said.
Lapid went further, daring Netanyahu to build in the blocs while freezing construction outside of them. He said that if he were prime minister, he would have been able to make a deal with Obama to freeze construction outside the blocs in return for permission to build inside them.
“The truth is we can build in Ma’aleh Adumim if we concede on building outside the blocs,” Lapid said. “We live in the real world, so it’s important to know that we aren’t building, because we tell the world it’s all or nothing, build everywhere or nowhere. But isolated settlements are not the same as blocs.”
A source close to Obama administration officials said such a deal would be unacceptable and would contradict the administration’s consistent policies about West Bank construction for the past seven years.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who is expected to seek a Likud Knesset seat in the next national election, accused the Obama administration and much of the international community of racism for discouraging Jewish construction while ignoring Arab building violations.
“Would someone in the US or England even consider demanding a freeze in their countries for only Arabs or only Jews?” he asked. “They prevent building for Jews, but there is no expectation or demand from Arabs to not build. This creates an absurd situation in which everyone loses. The freeze damages the Jews as well as the Arabs who live with us.”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman noted that a huge majority of Ma’aleh Adumim residents voted for the Likud after Netanyahu promised to double the city’s population.
He revealed an offer he made Netanyahu about his party joining the coalition.
“I told Netanyahu last year that I would enter his government if it built 1,000 housing units in Ma’aleh Adumim, but now the price has risen to 2,000,” Liberman said.
The meeting was also addressed by Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), Likud ministers Haim Katz and Yariv Levin and two MKs from Kulanu.
The State Department declined to comment Monday on a suggestion made by former Finance Minister Yair Lapid that Washington is willing to entertain a settlement freeze that excludes large Jewish-populated blocs likely to remain a part of Israel in a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.
The US has long characterized Israel's building in the West Bank as illegitimate— across Democratic and Republican administrations alike. But asked whether the US had changed its position since 2004— when former President George W. Bush acknowledged, in a letter to Ariel Sharon, the necessity of land swaps in any final two-state solution— an administration official suggested it had.
"Nothing's changed in President Obama's policy on settlements," State Department spokesman John Kirby said. "Settlement activity is illegitimate."
"They are illegitimate and they are counterproductive to the cause of peace," Kirby said, repeating "they are" with emphasis— suggesting all, including those within long-existing settlement blocs.