A 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction is a “one-time, temporary offer,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned this week.
“We took this step out of a deep desire to start anew negotiations for peace with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said Dec. 1 at an economic conference near Ben Gurion Airport.
Should the Palestinians not return to the negotiating table, he said, “we will resume building.”
The Palestinians have said they will not resume peace negotiations until Israel halts all settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas they claim for a future independent state.
They have rejected Netanyahu’s latest offer because it does not include east Jerusalem, their would-be capital, or stop construction of some 3,000 homes that have been approved or are already under way.
Meawhile, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered his office to triple the number of construction inspectors in the West Bank to enforce the new settlement freeze. Barak said Nov. 29 that 40 new inspectors would be added in the next two weeks to work with police in ensuring the settlement freeze is observed. As of last week, only 14 inspectors were deployed there.
Inspectors on Nov. 30 issued 50 stop-work orders at West Bank building sites. Four bulldozers and tractors, as well as building materials, were confiscated. However, in several West Bank settlements, residents immediately began forcing inspectors to turn away.
On Dec. 2, Mayor Avi Naim of the Beit Aryeh settlement in the central West Bank was arrested after preventing inspectors from entering his community to hand out stop-work orders.
The same day, some 60 residents in the Elon Moreh settlement near Nablus tried to block inspectors from entering, causing a violent confrontation. Two settlers were detained by police after allegedly throwing stones at security forces.
The heads of West Bank communities held a meeting early in the week and issued a statement: “The government’s decision is illegitimate, immoral, anti-Zionist and inhumane,” the statement said, “and we will continue to develop the land with or without the government.”
Netanyahu canceled a meeting with the West Bank regional council heads due to a virus.
Early in the week, Netanyahu ordered the Defense Ministry to allow the construction of 25 new apartments in the Keidar settlement, saying they did not fall under the construction freeze. He also said that work would continue on the 3,000 apartment units which had been authorized; classrooms and synagogues will also be built.
“The decision is not to authorize new construction,” Netanyahu said. He added that “it was not an easy decision, not for the settlers and not for me.”
The Jerusalem Post, the Associated Press and JTA contributed to this report.