US President Barack Obama's views on the issue of West Bank settlements are more challenging for Israel than those of former president Jimmy Carter, Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin said in a meeting with Likud activists from Judea and Samaria at the Knesset Tuesday.
Begin, whose father, former prime minister Menachem Begin, made peace with Egypt during Carter's presidency, made the comments just two weeks after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu censured Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat for calling the Obama administration "horrible."
"This administration is not even like that of Carter - and we realized, in retrospect, who he was," Begin told the activists. "It is unlike the administrations that preceded it, which came to certain understandings regarding construction in Judea and Samaria. This administration says all construction is illegitimate."
Begin made reference to Obama's June 4 speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, in which he declared that "the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."
He said that Carter referred to settlements as "not only an obstacle to peace, but also illegal."
According to Begin, while legality is a technical issue, legitimacy is a matter of political policy, and therefore Obama's views are more problematic for Israel than those of Carter.
"Carter did not maintain that Jews have no legitimate right to live in the towns and villages of Judea and Samaria," Begin said.
In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post, Begin stressed that on many issues, the Obama administration had been "very helpful to Israel and deserves to be recognized for it." But when it came to settlements, "the differences between Israel and the US are great and regrettable."
He said that ever since the Cairo speech, he had made similar comments in public forums in the United States and in the Knesset.
In a November 26 speech to Likud activists in Beersheba, Livnat had said that the "horrible" Obama administration had put Netanyahu through "a campaign of tribulations."
Netanyahu's office quickly denied any connection to Livnat's comments, saying in a statement, "The statements attributed to Livnat don't reflect the prime minister's opinion in any way."
Also on Tuesday, Begin said that normal life must go on in the settlements in spite of the 10-month moratorium on new Jewish West Bank construction and he promised to try to ease some of its restrictions.
Begin, who voted in favor of the moratorium and is a member of a special governmental committee that deals with issues relating to the freeze, visited the Beitar Illit settlement to try and assess the impact of the decree.
Upon hearing of the financial hardships caused to families which now stand to lose money on construction projects, he said, "No one intended to freeze [normal] life. It is my intention to work to restore the authority [which the moratorium] stripped from the local authorities [in the settlements]." he added that the planning process for new construction should continue because it was not reasonable to freeze that as well. His statements were released to the press by the Beitar Illit spokesman's office.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.