After the United States reportedly acceded to an Israeli demand that it supply a letter promising not to demand an additional building freeze in Judea and Samaria after the proposed three month extension is up, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was said Wednesday night to be preparing to convene a cabinet meeting later Wednesday night or Thursday to discuss the freeze extension. The U.S. will supply that promise in writing, reports Wednesday night said.
With that, Israeli diplomatic officials said that there was still work to be done on the arrangements between Israel and the U.S. So far, the U.S. has not agreed to supply Israel with advanced F-35 fighter jets in return for the 90 day freeze, and is willing to give Israel the planes only after a final status agreement is signed. Israel is demanding the planes as part of the freeze deal.
But instead of leading to cabinet approval of the freeze, the U.S. letter, ironically, could have an opposite effect, for what it does not say. Shas ministers have made several demands from Netanyahu in return for their votes – and if those conditions are not met, the ministers could vote against the freeze, instead of abstaining, as they had said they would several days ago. Earlier Wednesday, sources in the party quoted Shas head Eli Yishai as saying that “the tendency among the ministers now is more to vote against the freeze than to abstain.”
Among the Shas demands:
Jerusalem: Shas ministers are adamant that construction continue in Jerusalem during the three month freeze period. The ministers realize that the U.S. document will not include a specific permit for construction in Jerusalem, and that the best Israel can hope for is an American “understanding” that Israel will continue to build in Jerusalem, turning a blind eye. However, Shas is demanding that Netanyahu inform the Americans of how much building can be expected, and where, in order to ensure that both sides understand what construction was agreed to. Netanyahu reportedly promised the ministers that he would raise the issue with the Americans and get their thoughts.
Post-Freeze Building: Even during non-freeze periods, building in Judea and Samaria has been sparse in recent years – because Defense Minister Ehud Barak has not signed permits for construction projects, as Defense Ministry procedures demand. As a result, there is a huge backlog of paperwork demanding Barak’s signature before construction can proceed on hundreds of projects. Shas is demanding that Barak promise to clear the backlog as soon as the freeze is over. Netanyahu told Shas ministers that he would try and convince Barak to make such a promise.
PA Building: Shas Mks on Wednesday demanded that the Palestinian Authority be forced to halt its building in Judea and Samaria during the freeze period. Such a freeze would significantly slow down progress in the new PA city of Rawabi, where infrastructure work is proceeding at feverish speed. Netanyahu has reportedly not yet told the ministers if he will raise this subject with the Americans.
A vote on the freeze is not expected at the initial meeting Netanyahu is expected to call Wednesday night or Thursday, sources said.