Israel’s Defense Minister told an audience of high school students that though the U.S. government is blocking Israel from building more homes in Israeli settlements, the Obamna administration “won’t last forever.”
Moshe Ya’alon spoke to religious seminary students in a West Bank settlement outside Jerusalem Tuesday, and excerpts from his remarks were obtained by Israel’s Army Radio Wednesday.
"I really want to approve plans and build more – right now this issue draws a reaction first and foremost from the Americans, and then threats from various sources," Ya'alon said according to a translation of his quotes by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "So, we are very cautious not to stretch the rope too much."
"This government won't last forever, and I hope that this is temporary," Ya’alon added.
The defense minister lamented that every publication of plans to build homes in Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem leads to condemnation and attacks even from Israel’s friends.
Thus, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was taking a more cautious route, refraining from announcing new building tenders.
Despite the freeze on new construction, Ya’alon assured the students that Israeli communities in the West Bank were growing at a faster pace than other parts of Israel.
"Look at the past year – settlement in Judea and Samaria, and I know the numbers, grew by 20,000 people," he said.
Ya’alon was speaking at a private meeting with students at the Makor Haim Yeshiva, and the Times of Israel reported that he was likely unaware that he was being recorded.
The Jerusalem Post quoted sources close to Ya’alon who said Wednesday in response to Army Radio’s airing of excerpts of the defense minister’s remarks that he believes the U.S. is Israel’s greatest friend and that the Obama administration in particular has contributed to Israel’s security.
“The scope and the depth of the strategic cooperation between them is unprecedented,” the source told the Jerusalem Post.
Israeli politicians are in high gear in advance of early elections set for March. Netanyahu's Likud Party - also Ya'alon's party - is vying for votes from Israelis living in settlements, who complain construction is being blocked by the government responding to U.S. pressure.
Ya’alon’s remarks might once again ruffle feathers in Washington following previous run-ins.
In January, the defense minister was quoted by an Israeli newspaper privately calling Secretary of State John Kerry “messianic” and out of touch with reality in his singular focus on striking a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Obama administration was further annoyed when Ya’alon in March said the U.S. was projecting “weakness” on the issue of stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Ya’alon apologized for both comments and publicly emphasized the importance of maintaining strong ties with the U.S.
In October, Israeli media reported that when he was in Washington, Ya’alon requested to meet with three top officials - Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice – but was rejected. Israeli media reported that the snub was a response to his previous critical comments.