US knew of settlement construction plans

PM gives final nod to projects in east Jerusalem, settlement blocs, plans for construction in smaller communities.

Palestinian construction worker in Har Homa 390 (photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Palestinian construction worker in Har Homa 390
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
The US and the Palestinians knew in advance that the release of convicted Palestinian terrorists would be accompanied by announcements of settlement construction plans, government officials said Wednesday.
The comments came as Palestinian spokesmen slammed Israel for announcing that final permits have been given to build more than 1,500 units in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the pre-1967 lines and in communities in the large settlement blocs, as well as preliminary plans to build another 2,000 units in various settlements beyond the security barrier and the large blocs.
The announcement of the new settlement plans came soon after a second batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners was released late Tuesday night.
While the US and the Palestinians did not know about all the details of what new settlement plans would be announced, they knew of the intention to announce new plans, as well as the timing, the official said.
In order to pacify right wing elements inside his coalition, Netanyahu planned the timing of announcements of new building to coincide with each of the four batches of prisoner releases that are to take place by April under an agreement that led in July to the restarting of talks with the Palestinians. Some 104 convicted terrorists are to be released in four stages, two of which have now been carried out.
According to a Channel 2 report, on July 19, the day that Israel approved US Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework for restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Netanyahu agreed with Kerry that every time the prisoners would be released, there would be an announcement of new settlement construction plans to make the bitter pill easier to swallow for some of his coalition partners.
According to the report, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett knew this was the agreement, but still came out strongly against the recent release of prisoners, as well as against linking their release to construction in the settlements.
Bennett’s party issued a statement Thursday on the prisoner release, saying “the attempt to link the release of the murderers to construction tenders is manipulative and morally wrong. It will be better if the prime minister does not release murderers and does not build. This looks like a despicable attempt to free murderers and tarnish the settlement enterprise.”
Bennett’s public opposition to the move has strained his ties with Netanyahu and caused friction inside the coalition.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, the spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, reacted harshly to the plans for more construction in east Jerusalem and the settlements, saying the announcement “destroys the peace process and sends the international community the message that Israel does not respect international law.”
Ophir Akunis, the Likud deputy minister for liaison with the Knesset, gave details of the settlement plans in the government on Wednesday.
According to Akunis, Netanyahu gave the final nod to begin construction of hundreds of units in Jerusalem, Karnei Shomron, Ariel, Givat Ze’ev, Ma’aleh Adumim, Elkana, Betar Illit and Adam. He said that 1,500 units would be built in Ramat Shlomo, the units that triggered a mini-crisis in Israel- US relations in 2010 when preliminary plans for that project were announced during the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden.
In addition, Netanyahu gave the final go-ahead for plans to build a national park area east of Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus between the neighborhoods of Isawiya and E-Tur, as well as a tourism and archeological center opposite the entrance of the City of David in Silwan.
Government officials pointed out that all the plans that received final approval were in settlements inside the large settlement blocs.
Akunis also announced preliminary plans to build another 2,000 units in settlements outside the blocs, including Shiloh, Alei Zahav, Yakir, Mehola, Talmon, Har Bracha, Ofra, Kfar Adumim and Beit El.
UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon blasted Israel’s announcement to advance settlement construction, calling the move “contrary to international law” and saying it constituted “an obstacle to peace.”
However, Ban stated his appreciation for Israel’s undertaking the “difficult step” of releasing the second batch of pre-Oslo prisoners amid “deep domestic opposition” as a gesture for continuing peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.
He added that the UN expected parties to promote conditions conducive to a successful negotiation process and refrain from actions that undermine it.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.