Israel advanced the construction of some 3,000 housing units in West Bank settlements on Wednesday, despite condemnation from within the government as well as by the US administration.
The Defense Ministry’s higher planning council, which authorizes West Bank construction, said 1,804 units were given the final approval for construction. Another 1,326 housing units were advanced to a later stage of the planning process.
Approval of the new construction is bound to raise friction with the United States and Europe, anger the Palestinians and test Israel’s fragile governing coalition, which consists of a combination of nationalists and centrists and dovish parties that oppose settlements.
The coalition Labor party tweeted shortly after the announcement: “Those who make policy declarations with international implications irresponsibly, without coordination and without preparation, and approve the construction of 3,000 housing units in Judea and Samaria — how can we put this — they are no [Yitzhak] Rabin.”
The comment was a jab at Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who has reportedly said he wishes to be “the new Rabin,” referring to the late Israeli premier who signed the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians
Gantz’s Blue and White party quickly retorted on Twitter: “Those who call for conscientious objection should not preach on security and diplomatic responsibility.” The comment may have been referring to a 2010 radio interview in which current Labor leader Merav Michaeli said she didn’t think mothers should send their sons to the army (though she later walked back the remarks).
Gantz also recently declared six Palestinian human rights groups to be “terror organizations,” a move which was slammed by Michaeli, the government’s transportation minister, and other left-wing coalition members. The defense minister responded then by saying that Michaeli should “not get in the way of the war on terror.”
Meretz MK Mossi Raz told Army Radio Wednesday he hoped Gantz “will show responsibility and stop this destructive [settlement] building and the series of populist decisions that harm the government and the State of Israel.”
On Tuesday, the US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about Israel’s plans to advance new settlement homes, including many deep inside the West Bank.
“We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm, and damages the prospects for a two-state solution,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.
The Peace Now settlement watchdog denounced the government over the approvals. “A government that violates the commitment to the status quo and advances damaging construction in settlements is not a change government but a full-on right-wing government. The supporters of a two-state solution in the government have fallen asleep on duty,” the group said.