Debate Over Kalkilya Housing Flares Ahead of Schedule

Liberman, Kalkilya
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman toured Yehudah and Shomron on Wednesday. (Eden Moldowski/Ministry of Defense)

YERUSHALAYIM - Even before the Cabinet was to meet on Wednesday night for a scheduled debate on the proposed expansion of the Arab city of Kalkilya, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett were hotly debating the issue in other forums.

Taking a swipe at Bennett and his Jewish Home party, Liberman said: “This is a dispute within the right wing, between a responsible and serious right wing and a messianic and populist right wing.” He asserted that opposition to the building plan in Kalkilya based on security concerns was groundless and wrong-headed.

In an interview with Arutz Sheva on Wednesday, Bennett argued that “this move is a security mistake at the most elementary level. What has not been taken into account is that in the last year many terrorists who came from Kalkilya went out to carry out attacks, and if you talk about a stick and a carrot, the last thing you have to do is give a carrot to a place where terrorists are coming from.”

Bennett was referring to Liberman’s “carrot and stick” policy, which offers economic benefits to Palestinian cities and towns that show a willingness to live in peaceful cooperation with the Israeli authorities. As part of that policy, Liberman has backed a plan for the construction of thousands of housing units in Kalkilya.

During a tour of Maalei Shomron on Wednesday, Liberman was challenged on the issue by Shomron Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan, who organized the tour.

Dagan asked the defense minister to reconsider his support for the plan, which he asserted only serves the interests of Palestinians to the detriment of Israelis.

As in so many cases involving construction in Yehudah and Shomron, the facts were in dispute. Dagan said he opposed 14,000 new Palestinian homes, but Liberman insisted that the figure was way off. The number, he said, would be closer to 6,000, to be built over the next 18 years.

“We’re talking about 300-400 homes a year, that’s the whole story,” Liberman said. “So I recommend that we really speak about the facts and be aware of the reality, and not just slogans.”

Undeterred, Dagan argued that the exact number of units wasn’t important.

“Multiplying the terror city of Kalkilya endangers the residents of Yehudah and Shomron,” Dagan said.

On this too, the facts were not agreed upon. The Times of Israel commented that “Dagan’s designation of Qalqilya as a ‘terror city’ was an odd one, as there have been no terror attacks carried out by residents of Qalqilya in the past two years, save possibly for one case in which an attack was attempted. However it was not clear if the assailant was from Qalqilya or had merely resided there temporarily.”

Liberman cited defense officials who, he said, gave his carrots and sticks policy “full backing, from a security standpoint…the chief of staff, the head of Military Intelligence, the head of the [Central] Command and the head of the Yehudah and Shomron Division.”

Bennett promised to continue the debate in the Cabinet later on Wednesday.

“It must be understood that massive Palestinian construction near Route 6, near [the Israeli cities of] Kfar Sava and Kochav Yair – clearly contradicts Israeli interests – certainly during the period when Jewish construction is frozen. I don’t see the logic in building thousands of structures up against Route 6. We will certainly object to this and I also call on the members of the Cabinet to oppose this security error. And I hope we will be successful as we have been in the past.”