Finance Minister Yair Lapid (L) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Two senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet warned the premier late Sunday that more construction in Jewish settlements would further inflame already-tense ties with the United States.
Reacting to a Channel 2 report indicating that Netanyahu was nearing agreement with the pro-settler Bayit Yehudi party on more housing in the West Bank, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said the move is “irresponsible from both a diplomatic and security standpoint.”
“Plans for more construction, even if it’s in the settlement blocs, under such sensitive circumstances that we find ourselves in, is irresponsible from both a diplomatic and security standpoint,” she said. “The fear of publicly acknowledging that there is a construction freeze outside of the settlement blocs will lead to damage to the blocs themselves.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, meanwhile, said that more construction “at this stage would lead to a serious crisis in ties with the United States, and it would harm Israel’s international standing.”
Lapid said that while he is in principal not opposed to construction inside the settlement blocs, “at this stage it will cause damage to Israel.”
Despite the ministers’ objections, political observers told Channel 2 that they are unlikely to quit the coalition at this stage.
The left-wing opposition erupted in anger at news of the premier’s plan.
“Netanyahu is selling the State of Israel’s diplomatic interests in exchange for a few more months in the prime minister’s chair,” read a statement issued by the Labor Party. “If this is Netanyahu’s idea of a solution to the diplomatic crisis and to the high cost of housing, then he has completely lost direction.”
In addition to censuring the prime minister, Labor also took aim at Lapid and Livni.
“We call on Livni and Lapid to draw the appropriate conclusions and to do what is necessary,” the party said. “Those drops falling on their head are not rain.”
Meretz chair Zehava Gal-On also criticized the move. “Netanyahu works for the settlers and is repeatedly proving that all his talk of ‘a diplomatic horizon’ is just lip service for diplomatic purposes,” she said. “In practice, his political needs have been mortgaged to the settlers.”
Meanwhile, politicos on the right expressed satisfaction over the news.
“There has been a de facto freeze on construction for the past eight months, and that includes planning and marketing of housing,” Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked told Channel 2. “For a while now, we’ve been telling the prime minister that the freeze is simply wrong, and I’m very hopeful that soon it will be lifted.”