Israel pushes back at US, advances plans for 3,130 settler homes

The moves mark the first time since US President Joe Biden took office that Israel has issued tenders or advanced large-scale settlement projects.

A HOUSING CONSTRUCTION project in Israel. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A HOUSING CONSTRUCTION project in Israel.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ignored a direct Biden administration request to halt settlement activity and created an uproar in his coalition, when he allowed the Civil Administration to advance plans for 3,130 Jewish homes in Area C of the West Bank.

The approval followed controversial decisions by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to designate six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist groups and Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin to issue tenders for 1,355 Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Gantz on Tuesday night, while Gantz was on an official trip abroad to a censored location, to warn him against having the Civil Administration, which is under the Defense Ministry, authorize the construction.

The move is “disappointing and it is problematic that it was not coordinated with us. That makes things difficult for us and undermines agreements between the countries,” Blinken said, Channel 12 reported.

“And if that’s not enough, you added 1,300 more homes,” Blinken added, referring to Elkin’s announcement.

 Israeli minister of Defense Benny Gantz attend a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on October 19, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Israeli minister of Defense Benny Gantz attend a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on October 19, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Gantz reportedly responded that he will take Blinken’s concerns into consideration, but that this government has advanced fewer Jewish housing plans than were promoted under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure, and they are doing things to benefit the Palestinians, like allowing homes to be built for them in Area C and increasing the number of permits to work in Israel.

The Palestinian NGO issue did not come up in the conversation, according to Channel 12.

The Labor Party, which is a coalition member, took issue in particular with Gantz.

“Whoever irresponsibly announces policy declarations with international implications, without coordination and without preparation, and whoever approves the construction of 3,000 housing units in Judea and Samaria, how shall we say this, is no [former prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin.”

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White) retorted.

“Today’s Labor Party is very far from the Labor Party it was then,” she said, adding “how shall we say this, it’s less Labor and more of Meretz.”

The Blue and White Party itself tweeted against Labor, stating that those who in the past have called on young Israelis not to enter the army shouldn’t preach about responsible diplomatic and security actions. The comment referred to remarks Michaeli made as a media personality, before running for Knesset.

MK Mossi Raz (Meretz) said, “I hope that the minister of defense will show responsibility, stop this destructive construction and stop the sequence of populist decisions that are harming the government and the State of Israel.”

He said the advancement of the homes was the equivalent of 3,130 vegetables thrown in the faces of all the many protesters who had rallied against the former government and called for change.

The US did not immediately respond.

US Chargé d’Affaires Michael Ratney spoke with Bennett’s Diplomatic Adviser Shimrit Meir about the matter on Tuesday.

Bennett opted to move forward despite the US objection. He has been clear from the start that he has no plans to freeze settlement activity.

The European Union and the United Nations had also called on Israel not to move forward with the settlement plans.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the move. PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s office said that “such unilateral measures belittle the efforts of the US administration, which would require a Palestinian response to these offensive measures, based on the decisions of the Palestinian leadership, international law, and UN resolutions.”

The PA called on the US administration to implement its pledge to reject settlements and unilateral measures.

“These Israeli measures call for a decisive stance from all parties of the international community, including the International Quartet and the Security Council, to confront these Israeli decisions and practices that seek to steal Palestinian land and push matters towards a state of instability and tension, which will negatively affect everyone,” the PA added.

It also warned of the “dangers of these unacceptable practices which will have serious consequences and constitute a challenge to the recent American message calling for a stop to settlement activities.”

Reuters contributed to this report.