The controversy over a government decision to build thousands of housing units for Palestinians took an unexpected turn on Monday as Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman documented his claim that he had duly informed the security cabinet of the plan, despite their insistence that they had not been.
Liberman produced an official record of the discussion of the plan for 14,000 new apartments adjacent to Qalqilya, thus controverting a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office earlier in the day that charged Liberman had neglected to submit the full details to the security cabinet ahead of a ministerial vote on it last year.
PM Netanyahu told a Likud meeting that the number of units reported on in the media did correspond with what was presented to the cabinet.
“It is a very expansive interpretation on a decision that was never taken. We didn’t accept this interpretation and [the number] was never raised,” he said.
Prior to that, Netanyahu reportedly told coalition leaders he couldn’t remember such a session at the security cabinet. Subsequently, the Prime Minister’s Office released a clarification, which said that Netanyahu had merely said he was unclear about the details.
Speaking at the weekly meeting of the Yisrael Beytenu faction, Liberman asserted that the ministers were told that while 14,000 housing units should be built in the Qalqilya area, given existing restrictions on construction, no more than 6,187 units could realistically be constructed there. He projected that the construction would not start until 2030.
Liberman defended the housing project on the grounds that it will promote peaceful relations with the Palestinians:
“Qalqilya was one of the quiet cities during the last terror wave,” Liberman said. “This was part of the carrot and stick approach [to the Palestinians] that incidentally, was publicized to the media.”
However, media reports on the plan, which surfaced last Wednesday, triggered an uproar, especially among right-wing MKs in the Likud and Jewish Home parties, and their constituents in Yehudah and Shomron, who decried the building of so many homes for Palestinians when building in Jewish communities has been kept down.
Liberman dismissed the uproar as pure politics, an issue manufactured for “primaries” and “Likud party campaigners.”
He added that he has no objection to further discussion in the security cabinet. “From my perspective, let them have discussions morning and night,” he said.
In addition, Liberman rebuked certain politicians for spreading accusations that IDF officials had been guilty of underhanded behavior, that they attempted to slip past the security cabinet the full extent of the plan, and personally attacked Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Gen. Yoav Mordechai.
“Ministers and MKs are taking advantage of the fact that those in uniform can’t respond to them, and are allowing themselves, for narrow political reasons, to incite against the commanders of the IDF,” he charged.
Netanyahu similarly chastised the army’s critics.
“IDF officers carry out policy, they don’t lay down policy. That is what I am asking, and if there are arguments to be made — turn to the government, to the defense minister, to the prime minister — but don’t attack the IDF officers,” he said.