Heavy machinery work on a field as they begin construction work of Amichai, a new settlement which will house some 300 Jewish settlers evicted in February from the settlement of Amona, in the West Bank June 20, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the United States that he would freeze the publication of tenders for new building projects in West Bank settlements through the end of 2017, settler sources told The Jerusalem Post.
They spoke with the Post after the Hebrew newspaper Makor Rishon broke the story on Friday morning.
Angry politicians threatened to pressure Netanyahu to rescind the decision, which would prevent workers from breaking ground on housing projects.
The promise of such a freeze without any security cabinet or government decision, is “undemocratic, non-Zionist and immoral,” the Knesset Land of Israel caucus said in response.
Jewish building in “Judea and Samaria is Israel’s insurance policy against the danger of a Palestinian state,” the caucus chairmen MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) said.
The government, therefore, has “not just the right but an obligation to its voters” to promote such activity, the parliamentarians said.
It’s not the first time that Netanyahu has executed a de facto freeze on building tenders in the West Bank.
Tenders were frozen in 2009 and 2010 during the first two years of his second term as prime minister.
Settler leaders became aware of this newest de facto freeze when trying to understand why the 300 homes for the Beit El settlement had not been marketed, particularly given that all the authorizations for the project had been issued.
Netanyahu had promised to build the homes in exchange for the peaceful 2012 evacuation of the Ulpana outpost on the outskirts of Beit El.
This week Beit El residents manned a protest tent outside the Knesset demanding that Netanyahu keep his word and publish tenders for the homes.
On Thursday Netanyahu met with Beit El Council head Shay Alon and promised him the homes would be excluded from the freeze and would be marketed by September.
Alon later told the Post there is no reason to wait another three months and vowed to continue the protest until the homes were marketed.
On Sunday, he plans to hold a press conference pushing the need for the homes to be marketed now.
The marketing freeze is not expected to impact the 2,858 tenders which have been already published this year.
It’s the highest number in over 15 years, even if no other ones are issued, said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now.
There has been so much settler activity this year, that such a gesture is unlikely to make an impact, she added.
On Friday, Israel Lands Authority published a list of minor delays in those projects.
Beit Arye Council head Avi Naim said that the Construction Ministry is in the middle of marketing and building 650 homes in his settlement and that he is not expecting any unusual delays.
“Everything is going according to plan,” Naim said, adding that he did not believe Netanyahu would be able to freeze tenders at this time.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu boasted of settlement building and placed a photograph on Twitter of tractors breaking ground for the new settlement of Amihai.
The US State Department said in response that “unrestrained settlement building was not helpful to the peace process.”
The United Nations reported to its Security Council that Israel had failed to comply with a December resolution that called for a halt to such activity.
Since US President Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, Israel has advanced or authorized plans for over 8,000 settlers homes. But the plans were for only 36 out of the 130 West Bank settlements.
Right-wing politicians have argued that the plans fall far below the needs of these communities.
They also feel that more should be done to promote Jewish building in the West Bank, given the plan to advance 14,000 homes in Area C for Palestinians.
Last week the Jerusalem municipality advanced 7,000 homes in Jewish neighborhoods in areas of the city that are located over the pre-1967 lines.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh last week said that Israeli settlements undermines US efforts to revive the peace talks. It “indicates that Israel is not interested in American efforts and is serious about thwarting these efforts as it did with previous US administrations,” Abu Rudeineh told Wafa, the Palestinian News Agency.