Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid blocked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to build in east Jerusalem and the West Bank Wednesday, a move that could shake up the coalition.
Lapid made it clear in a meeting on building infrastructure for settlements with Netanyahu, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Transportation Minister Israel Katz that he would not allow the plans, which would cost an estimated NIS 300 million, to move forward.
“I’m not investing a shekel over the Green Line. Why don’t we build a highway to Kiryat Shmona?” he asked.
A source close to the Yesh Atid leader clarified that he does not oppose construction within settlement blocs or building infrastructure where it is needed, but that he will not stand for expanding “Itamar and Yitzhar” – more isolated settlements – and authorizing outposts.
“There is a time and a place for everything, and this is not the right time; you heard what the Americans said about us,” Lapid said. “I don’t remember us making a decision to destroy our relations with the Americans.”
Bennett responded: “I don’t remember us making a decision to strangle the residents of Judea and Samaria.”
Netanyahu then closed the meeting, saying the ministers clearly weren’t prepared.
Sources close to the prime minister say his aides and Lapid’s aides discussed the matter last week and that Lapid’s staff agreed to fund infrastructure, but on Wednesday they denied it.
Last week, Bennett, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel and settler activist Ze’ev Hever met with Netanyahu and clarified that they will destabilize the coalition if the “silent settlement freeze” remains in place.
Meanwhile, building continues in West Bank settlements, but the settlement leadership has begun to focus on the list of projects the government has “frozen,” including 12 roads needed to improve transportation in Judea and Samaria. Some of those roads are outside of the settlement blocs, including in the area of the isolated settlements of Yitzhar and Itamar.
Soon after Netanyahu met with Bennett, Ariel and Hever, he authorized the construction of 400 homes in Har Homa and 660 in Ramat Shlomo. Both Jerusalem neighborhoods are located over the Green Line.
He also gave the green light for 12 roads in the West Bank, student housing and a promenade in Gush Etzion in memory of the three teens who were kidnapped and murdered this summer.
Following Lapid’s outburst, a senior Bayit Yehudi source said, “The Yair Lapid who opened his last election campaign in Ariel and spoke out against dividing Jerusalem opened his new election campaign today – against Ariel and for strangling Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is not a topic for political stunts even in difficult times,” the source added.
Katz said the infrastructure in the West Bank could save lives and that he does not understand how a minister can put Israeli citizens in danger for political considerations.
“Does [Lapid] really think the children of Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, and Eilon Moreh deserve less security and safety than the residents of Ra’anana and Umm el-Fahm?” Katz asked. “Where is his loyalty?” Another matter threatening the coalition is the ‘Israel Hayom bill’ – legislation proposed by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) that would make it illegal to disseminate a daily newspaper for free.
However, the bill’s definition of a free daily newspaper makes it applicable only to Israel Hayom, the pro-Netanyahu paper owned by his major supporter and donor Sheldon Adelson, who also contributes to Republican candidates’ campaigns in the US.
An MK in every coalition party except Likud co-sponsored the bill, which was supposed to go to a preliminary vote on Wednesday.
Cabel pulled the bill after Yesh Atid asked that he bring it to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Wednesday.
Lapid’s party said it will ask coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) to grant freedom to vote according to conscience on the measure, so that even if he does not agree they may vote for the bill.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.