Steinitz: Now is the time to build in E-1

Finance minister tours controversial site in Ma’aleh Adumim, calls for more building in settlement blocs.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) called on the government Tuesday to authorize construction in one of the more diplomatically controversial West Bank sites – a neighborhood in the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement known as E-1.
“I think we have to build in E-1, and elsewhere in Ma’aleh Adumim and the other settlement blocs,” he said as he toured the city with its mayor, Benny Kashriel.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that building should be accelerated in settlements like Ma’aleh Adumim, which would remain under Israeli sovereignty in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
But in spite of his strong words, Netanyahu authorized only 50 new units in the city at the start of November, when he gave the green light for 1,650 new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and 277 new homes in the Efrat settlement.
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Netanyahu and his inner cabinet, which consists of eight senior members of the cabinet, did this in the aftermath of a vote by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to recognize Palestine as its 195th member.
At the same time, the inner cabinet “temporarily suspended” the transfer of tax fees to the PA. On Monday, the security cabinet, which consists of seven senior cabinet members, continued the suspension.
The government has weighed taking additional steps against the PA, but to date, it has not voted on any other punitive measures.
Located 4.5 kilometers over the pre-1967 line just outside of Jerusalem on the way to the Dead Sea, Ma’aleh Adumim is the third-largest settlement city. It is home to 36,000 people.
New construction there has slowed to a trickle, because the only tracts of land left for new large construction projects are in E-1.
For close to two decades, every prime minister has promised to authorize E-1, but no one has.
Although Palestinians object to all settlement construction, they have been especially adamant about E-1, because they believe it will harm the contiguity of their future state.
The US has also pressured Israel not to build there.
But on Tuesday, Steinitz told a small group of reporters that now was the time to consider authorizing E-1 in light of the Palestinian refusal to negotiate and its pursuit of unilateral statehood.
“I think it is high time to tell our American friends that this is not the [moment in which] Israel should take into consideration any objections, requests or reservations by the Palestinian Authority [with respect to E-1],” Steinitz said.
“It should be clear that Ma’aleh Adumim [including E- 1] will remain in Israel in any future peace agreement,” he said.
Even former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin believed this, he said.
The PA has “betrayed” the principles of the Oslo Accords and the peace process in general, Steinitz said, adding that it had sought statehood without peace, without an end to the conflict and without the recognition that Israel is a Jewish state.
This action, the finance minister continued, is akin to the violence and terror that occurred earlier this decade when Yasser Arafat chaired the PA.
“Therefore, antagonizing the Palestinian Authority is not the issue,” he said. “We should not take into account any Palestinian resistance to building in Ma’aleh Adumim or elsewhere in Judea and Samaria.”
Steinitz added that he was a strong advocate of freezing the transfer of tax fees to the PA.
“The PA is breaking all the rules. This is a time for sanctions,” he said. “We cannot cooperate with the PA as if nothing happened.”
While in Ma’aleh Adumim, Steinitz also spoke against the demolition of unauthorized homes in settlements or outposts, including those built on private Palestinian property.
Consideration should be given to settlers who built homes on land they believed would be approved by the government, he said.
It is possible to compensate private Palestinian property owners, should it be proven that the land belongs to them, Steinitz said.
“You do not destroy people’s homes,” he stated.