The US has pressured Israel into halting the advancement of West Bank settlement plans, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon charged on Tuesday. However, he noted that the Obama administration was temporary and had only two more years left in power.
Ya’alon was speaking during a closeddoor meeting with pupils at the Makor Haim Yeshiva, which is in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion region. However, his words were recorded, and Army Radio played limited sections of the speech on Wednesday morning.
“I want to advance plans [for settlement construction] and to build more,” he told the students in response to a question on reports of a construction freeze in West Bank settlements.
“But this subject provokes a [negative] response, first from the Americans, and after that there are warnings from other sources,” he continued. “So we are very, very careful not to pull on this rope too much.”
He expressed hope that this situation would be temporary.
“At present there is a certain administration in Washington, and it is the US that is setting the tone. But this administration won’t be [in power] forever, and I hope it’s temporary,” he said.
According to Army Radio, the sensitive nature of West Bank settlements, and the harm that building there caused Israel in the diplomatic arena, was a subject that repeated itself throughout his talk with the teens.
Even Israel’s friends react negatively to building announcements over the pre-1967 lines, he said. He added that he understood why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to act cautiously on this issue, and as a result he adhered to the policy the prime minister set on the matter.
He said that even ministers from parties like Bayit Yehudi, who want to build, understand the problem Israel faces.
When it comes to physical structures, building continues in Judea and Samaria, Ya’alon reported, adding that its population was growing at a faster rate than that of the rest of the country.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the population of Judea and Samaria grew by 4.4 percent in 2013, compared to 1.9% for the rest of the country.
Tuesday’s talk was not the first time Ya’alon had been heard making negative comments about the United States in an off-the-record conversation.
In January, he issued an apology to Washington for disparaging remarks he made in a private conversation, in which he called US Secretary of State John Kerry “messianic” and “obsessive.”
When the defense minister visited the US in October, he held few high-level meetings. The Israeli media reported that he had been snubbed by Kerry, US Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
At the time, Ya’alon denied the media allegations and said that his visit was never meant to be a high-level trip.
In response to Wednesday’s Army Radio report, sources close to Ya’alon said the defense minister believed that the US was Israel’s greatest friend and one on which it relied strategically.
He also believes that America, and this administration in particular, has contributed to Israel’s security, the sources said.
“The scope and the depth of the strategic cooperation between them is unprecedented,” they stated.
But they noted that there were a number of disagreements between Israel and the US on several issues.
Although they did not name those issues, it is well-known that Washington and Israel do not see eye-to-eye when it comes to building in West Bank settlements or in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.
On Tuesday evening at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro said West Bank settlement building and announcements about such construction were “counterproductive” and only served to delay the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In response to Ya’alon’s comments, Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On slammed the government on Wednesday for its actions in the disputed territories in the West Bank, saying those actions were leading the Jewish state down “the fast track to isolation and ostracism.”
“The Israeli government continues to destroy relations with the United States and the Western world,” she stated.
“The defense minister and the prime minister are sitting on an explosive barrel and waving the middle finger to the world.”
Ya’alon’s statements on the US and settlement building came in the opening days of a complex election campaign, in which the Likud must simultaneously defend Netanyahu’s ability to maintain close ties with the US, and cater to the right-wing voters who want a government that supports Jewish building in Judea, Samaria and areas of Jerusalem over the pre-1967 lines.
Although Ya’alon supports West Bank settlement building, he has angered many in the settlement leadership by enforcing practices they believe are restrictive of such construction.
Upon hearing the Army Radio report, Yigal Dilmoni, deputy head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria, immediately attacked Ya’alon on his Facebook page.
“Good morning Mr. Defense Minister, I am glad to hear that you really, really want to build in Judea and Samaria. Wouldn’t that be a dream?” he said in his tongue-in-cheek post.
“I understand you. You are, after all, just the defense minister. You have no authority. The Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Committee has nothing to do with you.”
Dilmoni, who is now running as a Knesset candidate on the Bayit Yehudi list, offered Ya’alon a suggestion: “Lets both pray that the Bayit Yehudi Party does very well in the elections. When we are big and strong, we can achieve your dream for you.”