Ministers deny increased US pressure on Bennett to freeze settlements
Cabinet ministers and officials close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett denied that he was under increased pressure from the Biden administration to freeze construction in Judea and Samaria, although Washington has always opposed settlement activity .
Charg d’Affaires Michael Ratney meets regularly with Bennett’s diplomatic adviser, Shimrit Meir, and has raised concerns about the settlements, multiple sources said.
In addition, the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria has yet to meet to advance an important settlement building project. It last met just before US President Joe Biden took office on January 20, when Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister.
The council was originally scheduled to meet in August to advance plans for 2,223 settler homes, but that meeting was called off due to a strike and was not rescheduled.
Following an Army Radio report on Wednesday that Bennett told the Security Cabinet he was “surprised” by the level of pressure on US settlements, many ministers said, on condition of anonymity, that they had not felt or heard of an increase in pressure.
Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin told military radio that there was “no connection between the report and what happened in reality.”
“We know how to behave,” Elkin added. “It’s not something we haven’t seen in previous governments.”
“They don’t want to build in E1 or Givat Hamatos, but that’s not what the pressure looks like,” a senior diplomatic source said.
Bennett has repeatedly stated that he has no plans to freeze Jewish buildings in Judea and Samaria and that he intends to continue pushing plans for new construction.
The prime minister is aware that when new construction plans in the West Bank are made public, they will likely cause friction with the Biden administration, a source close to Bennett said. However, he still intends to allow “a conservative, but steady pace of construction”.
Regarding construction, the source added that Bennett plans to focus more on the Golan Heights, which the United States recognizes as sovereign Israeli territory. Earlier this month, Bennett announced a plan to quadruple the population of the Golan Heights.
Elkin told military radio that he plans to double the population of the Jordan Valley. He argued that expansion into this part of the West Bank was a “consensus” in Israel, although Meretz and Ra’am oppose any Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria, and Labor opposes construction in outside the blocks.
Samaria Regional Council chief Yossi Dagan visited Washington this week to arouse opposition in Congress to any attempt by the Biden administration to impose a settlement freeze on Israel.
“We will not allow a construction freeze in Judea and Samaria,” Dagan told media.
“Not in this government and in no other government,” he stressed.
Dagan left for Washington earlier this week amid consistent reports of pressure from the Biden administration on Bennett to freeze settlement activity.
Dagan is a member of the largest opposition party, Likud, led by Netanyahu. He warned Bennett not to blame American pressure for a freeze.
“Responsibility for construction in Judea and Samaria rests solely with the Israeli government,” led by Bennett, said Dagan.
There is support among American politicians for Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, Dagan said, adding that he found the politicians he met to be very supportive and receptive.
“The purpose of the meetings is to create a coalition of partners for the State of Israel and the colony of Judea and Samaria who will fight together to build and strengthen” these communities, he said.
Dagan’s office said the settler leader had met with around 20 members of the House and Senate. This includes Republican Rep. Robert Good of Virginia, Chris Smith of New Jersey, Andy Barr of Kentucky, Charles Fleischmann of Tennessee, Lee Zeldin of New York and Beth Van-Dwayne of Texas.