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Arab Israel Conflict
Lapid vetoed spending on settlements
From the Financial Times of Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:13:33 GMT
Yair Lapid©Quique Kierszenbaum/FT

Israel’s finance minister said he vetoed new spending on infrastructure for Jewish settlements in the West Bank after an “angry meeting” at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, and criticised the timing of the recent announcements on building plans that have inflamed tensions with Palestinians and the US.

Yair Lapid, head of the centre-right Yesh Atid party in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, said he had refused a funding request worth Shk200m to Shk300m ($53m-$79m) for roads and other projects deep inside the occupied West Bank that would have “caused an international crisis”.

“I said there’s no way I’m going to authorise these kinds of transfers of money unless someone lets me know that there is an Israeli decision terminating the special relationship with the US and having prioritisation of the settlements over the rest of the Israeli periphery,” Mr Lapid said in an interview after Wednesday’s meeting.

“It was an angry meeting, and I was apparently in charge of the angry part of it,” he said. “I thought there were prior agreements on this. We terminated the meeting.”

The Netanyahu government’s plan to expand settlements sparked controversy this week after Monday’s announcement that more than 1,000 new housing units are to be built at Har Homa and Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians envisage the capital of their future state.

Mr Lapid favours continued building inside settlement blocs in Jerusalem – a view opposed by the US and Europe, but shared by many Israelis. However, Wednesday’s funding request would have concerned infrastructure in new areas outside the blocs, which Israel wants to swap with the Palestinians as part of any peace deal.

The finance minister, a former TV host who entered politics last year, also voiced concern over Israel’s fraying ties with the US, its closest ally, which were strained this week over the settlement announcement and leaked remarks attributed to a White House official who referred to Mr Netanyahu as “chickenshit”.

“No minister in the government can accept this kind of vocabulary when it refers to our prime minister,” Mr Lapid said.

Mr Lapid said he supported building new settlement housing in Jerusalem – “the capital of Israel” but criticised the timing of Monday’s announcement.

“Since we are not now in a negotiation with the Palestinians and since there is a crisis that is not to be ignored any more with the American administration, I don’t think it’s a good idea to increase the flames, but to decrease the flames,” he said.

Peace talks with the Palestinians fell apart in April over settlements, Israel’s delay of a promised prisoner release and other issues. Mr Lapid said he was working with justice minister Tzipi Livni’s small Hatnua party to revive them.

Mr Lapid’s position inside the Netanyahu government is delicate, amid tensions inside the coalition that in recent days have seen Naftali Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home – which wants Israel to ignore international condemnation of settlements and continue building there – claim the upper hand.

Mr Lapid, who originally aimed to be foreign minister, has seen his popularity in Israel plunge during his time as finance minister. Opinion polls suggest his pro-secularist, middle-of-the-road party would lose support in favour of rightwing parties if the Netanyahu government were to fall apart and a new election called.

Mr Lapid voiced support for building in Givat Hamatos, a new settlement on the southern fringes of East Jerusalem that the Palestinians say will diminish their chances of ever creating a territorially contiguous state, and of which the US and European countries have been sharply critical.

“This is part of Jerusalem,” he said. “I am not in the business of making the Palestinians happy on the account of Israeli interests. Apparently the Palestinians are furious whatever we do.”

He also declined to criticise the move in recent weeks by Jewish settlers under armed guard into Silwan, an Arab neighbourhood in the shadow of Al-Aqsa mosque where local residents have staged angry protests in response.

“I think Jerusalem is part of Israel, and I think I am on the same page as the prime minister,” he said. “No one will tell us whether or not or where we are allowed in Jerusalem.”

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