Lieberman raises idea of building freeze beyond main settlement “blocs”


Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has come under criticism from the coalition for saying that Israel would consider freezing building in the smaller settlements in return for authorisation to build in existing settlement “blocs”.

Lieberman’s comments were directed towards the incoming US administration led by President-elect Donald Trump. Approximately 380,000 Israelis currently live in the West Bank, 70-80 per cent of whom live in areas known in Israel as “settlement blocs” such as Efrat, Alon Shvut and Maale Adumim.

These cover approximately 5 per cent of the West Bank and both left and right wing governments have taken the position that they should become part of Israel in a future peace agreement.

Lieberman cited a letter sent by then-US President George W. Bush to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, which stated that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949”.

Lieberman said: “‎If the new US administration ratifies the Bush-Sharon letter, we should grab this with both hands and no longer build outside the blocs.”

Lieberman’s comments were welcomed by members of the opposition but criticised from within the coalition.

Tzipi Livni from the HaTnua faction of the Zionist Union said that “instead of going wild in Amona, Israel should buttress the commitments we achieved with the Bush administration against the right of return and in favour of keeping the blocs”.

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid said: “we should listen to Lieberman on the subject of Amona and construction in the blocs. This is the only responsible thing that came out of the coalition yesterday.”

However, Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that Lieberman’s remarks “do not reflect the stance of the government,” while MKs Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) said: “There is no reason for a right-wing government to adopt the left wing’s peace plan.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not rule out the idea in a noncommittal response that “‎the prime minister will hear the ministers and formulate the government’‎s position vis-‎à-vis the new US administration”.

Lieberman’s statement comes in the context of discussions whether US President Obama will make a final intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before he leaves office. This could include giving a speech on parameters for a peace agreement between Israeli and the Palestinians, or by the US supporting a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.