New Israeli Minister of Housing Uri Ariel on Sunday said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming Cabinet would keep expanding Jewish settlements to the same extent as his previous government.
The remarks came two days ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama, who has urged Israel to halt settlement on land that Palestinians seek for a state. They suggested that Netanyahu’s new Cabinet could prove to be as hawkish as his outgoing coalition.
Ariel, a Jewish settler and member of the pro-settler Jewish Home Party, said in a television interview that “building will continue in accordance with what the government’s policy has been thus far” in occupied territory.
Using the biblical names for the territory Israel captured in the Six-Day War in 1967, Ariel told Israel’s Channel 10 that the government “will build in Judea and Samaria more or less as it has done previously. I see no reason to change it.”
Ariel added that Israel planned the bulk of housing construction for more sparsely populated areas within its sovereign borders in the Negev Desert to the south and the Galilee region in its north.
He said construction in the West Bank was “not the main story” for his housing plans.
Most world powers see the settlements as illegal under international law. Some Israelis claim historical and biblical ties to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, home to about 500,000 settlers, and dispute that building in these areas is illegal.
Peace talks for a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been frozen since 2010 in a dispute over settlement building.
Netanyahu has accelerated settlement plans anew after Palestinians won recognition for statehood in the UN General Assembly in November last year, a move Israel opposed as a unilateral step that undermined peace efforts.
In December last year and January this year, Israel announced plans to build more than 11,000 new houses in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, almost double the 6,800 built under Netanyahu’s previous administration since March 2009, figures by settlement watchdog Peace Now showed.
Netanyahu has built a new government since the Jan. 22 election that is based on centrists elected on the strength of popular protests against the steep cost of living and right-wing parties championing the concerns of Jewish settlers.