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Settler leaders complain of de facto ‘settlement freeze’

Agriculture Minister and senior Jewish Home MK Uri Ariel yesterday sharply criticised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what he described as a de facto construction freeze in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Ariel heads the National Union faction of Jewish Home and said at a press conference yesterday alongside fellow MK Betzalel Smotrich, that, “This notion of a [construction] freeze needs to disappear.” Ariel claimed that, “There is a promise by the prime minister to market [property] in Jerusalem and it’s not being done. There is a promise to Jewish Home and the National Union to continue building in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and to our great disappointment these things are not happening.”

Ariel and Smotrich both spoke at a demonstration in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, in particular to protest a High Court order last month to destroy two buildings there containing 24 housing units, on the grounds that the property was registered to Palestinians and the building did not have the correct permits. A group of municipal leaders from West Bank communities released a statement saying “Today, the High Court is causing destruction and the prime minister is preventing the advancement of construction plans.” There were other protests over the Beit El decision at additional West Bank locations.

In response to Ariel’s allegations, Netanyahu’s Likud Party released a statement saying, “The prime minister will continue to advance the settlements project intelligently and responsibly in the face of a complex international reality.”

Earlier this month, settler leaders including the Yesha Council, the representative body of West Bank settlement communities, criticised Netanyahu for allegedly telling local West Bank council leaders that there will be no further construction in settlements beyond what already exists.

In 2010, Netanyahu did institute a ten-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank, in order to help facilitate peace talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, the PA agreed to the short-lived talks only during the final month of the freeze.