MK Ofir Akunis (Likud), Deputy Speaker of the House in the Knesset, has clarified that the Israeli government intends to continue building Jewish villages in Judea and Samaria.
Akunis stated that the government views the region as an essential part of the Jewish homeland. "At no point was Israel ready to accept a building freeze in Judea and Samaria as a precondition for negotiations [with Palestinian Arabs]. Israel has built, is building, and will continue to build in Judea and Samaria."
Akunis noted that in light of yesterday's (Tuesday) release of 26 convicted terrorists, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Minster of Internal Affairs Gideon Sa'ar have decided to build 1500 housing units in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria. At the same time, the PM has also approved to begin building 200 units in the following places: Shilo, Givat Zeev, Karney Shomron, Almog, Alei Zahav, Yakir, K'far Adumim, M'hola, Talmon, Har Bracha, Ofra, and Beit El.
The move for a swathe of new building permits in Judea and Samaria is being seen as an attempt by Netanyahu to offset domestic criticism of the highly unpopular release of convicted murderers. Suggestions that the building tenders were part of a trade-off with the Bayit Yehudi party - which staunchly opposed the prisoner release and which supports Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria - that was coordinated in advance with the PA, have been strenuously denied by both Bayit Yehudi and senior PA officials.
Akunis's comments follow a tumultuous week. The release, far from appeasing Judea and Samaria residents, has been widely condemned by the Israeli public. Numerous protests have erupted against the release, escalating after a motion to stop the measure on legal grounds was defeated by the Supreme Court in a last-minute appeal Tuesday night. The move has also reportedly caused upheaval in the Knesset, bringing speculation about the future of the current coalition government.