Did Netanyahu offer east Jerusalem building for political mergers?

“We don’t know of anything like that,” a Likud spokesman said on Monday.

The Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud is seen in front of the Dome of the Rock (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
The Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud is seen in front of the Dome of the Rock
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
The Likud has contradicted reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to advance construction in a new Jerusalem neighborhood if Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism Party merges with small parties on the Right before the election.
“We don’t know of anything like that,” a Likud spokesman said Monday.
A source close to Smotrich said Netanyahu had not made any official offer.
“It’s nonsense,” the source said. “It’s part of the spin and the public pressure on us. We read about it in the media, like everyone else.”
Netanyahu had offered to advance construction projects over the Green Line in Jerusalem if Smotrich merges his list with other right-wing parties, Israel Hayom and KAN News reported. Netanyahu would then give Smotrich public credit for the construction, KAN reported.
According to Israel Hayom, Netanyahu specifically offered to build 9,000 housing in Atarot, which is in northern Jerusalem and beyond the security barrier.
Netanyahu sought to build there last year and was reportedly rebuffed by the Trump administration, since it was considered a Palestinian area in their peace plan.
US President Joe Biden has been an opponent of settlement construction for decades and had confrontations with Netanyahu over building in east Jerusalem when he was vice president. Advancing the plans in the early days of Biden’s presidency would likely cause friction between Israel and the US.
For Netanyahu to push building in Atarot, Smotrich would have to run in a united list with Bayit Yehudi, Otzma Yehudit and Noam, according to the reports.
Smotrich is negotiating a merger with Bayit Yehudi, which is now led by Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe and whose ideology is similar to that of the Religious Zionism Party. Neither party passed the 3.25% electoral threshold alone in recent polls, and the two together only received 2.1% of the vote in a Channel 12 poll on Sunday.
Smotrich reportedly does not want to run with Otzma Yehudit because he believes it is too extreme. Otzma is a far-right anti-Arab party led by former students of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was banned from running for the Knesset in the 1980s due to incitement to racism.
On Sunday, Otzma merged with Noam, which focuses on traditional family values and uses anti-LGBT rhetoric. The two parties together received 1.2% of the vote in the Channel 12 poll.
The deadline to file lists for the next Knesset election is on Thursday at midnight, but a source close to Smotrich was noncommittal about the party leader’s plans.
“We don’t know what will be in the end,” he said. “What we want is a list that will pass the threshold.”
Smotrich and Otzma leader Itamar Ben-Gvir have yet to hold any serious discussions on a merger.
Moshe and Smotrich met on Friday and were close to an agreement, but the Bayit Yehudi leader hardened her stance on Sunday. She faces pressure from several hundred Bayit Yehudi central committee members, as well as the candidates who ran against her in the party primary.