Lapid Lashed Out Against Construction In Yehudah and Shomron

YERUSHALAYIM (Hamodia/AP) -

Israel’s finance minister on Sunday criticized construction of Jewish housing in isolated parts of Yehudah and Shomron as a waste of money and vowed to bring down the country’s governing coalition if it heeds calls to annex parts of those areas.

The tough speech by Finance Minister Yair Lapid highlights divisions in the Israeli government following the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians just over a month ago. The government has been unable to come up with a coherent response while failing to rally international opposition to a new Palestinian unity government.

Addressing a security conference in the coastal town of Herzliya, Lapid urged the government to seize the diplomatic initiative and present its own peace plan. He said Israel should withdraw from empty areas of Yehudah and Shomron and afterwards dismantle communities located in isolated areas. He said the government should present a map clearly identifying these areas.

“There is no reason to keep building settlements in places and areas that will not be part of Israel in any future agreement and to continue investing billions in infrastructure that at the end of the day, we will just give away as gifts to the Palestinians,” he said.

He said he supported continued construction in blocs that Israel expects to keep, but that building in isolated areas has hurt Israel’s international image.

“The settlements are too pricey and expensive,” he said. “We are losing billions in economic activity that we could have used in order to reduce taxes, increase security and improve civilian services.”

Lapid said his plan was only meant as an interim step, and that a final border should be reached through negotiations with the Palestinians.

While Lapid urged the government to take diplomatic action, the Jewish Home Party has called on the government to annex parts of Yehudah and Shomron, a move that would trigger international condemnations.