Israeli prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu concluded a secret deal with one of his coalition partners, pledging to expand settlements in a highly-contentious area of the West Bank, army radio said on Wednesday.
The agreement is not included in the official coalition deal between Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of firebrand Avigdor Lieberman but the two men struck the understanding during their coalition talks, the radio said.
According to the plan, some 3,000 housing units are to be constructed in the so-called E1 Sector in the occupied West Bank which runs between annexed east Jerusalem and the Maale Adumim settlement.
There was no immediate comment on the report from either party.
Israel had pledged to freeze the E1 project as part of its commitments under the international roadmap for peace which was launched in 2005 but has made little progress since then.
Netanyahu spoke the day after the center-left Labour party voted to join his right-leaning cabinet, a move that he hopes will head off any tension with the United States, which has vowed to vigorously pursue the peace process.
“Partner for Peace”
"I think that the Palestinians should understand that they have in our government a partner for peace, for security, for the rapid development of the Palestinian economy," Netanyahu said.
Palestinians bitterly oppose the project as it effectively cuts the occupied West Bank in two, making the creation of a viable Palestinian state highly problematic.
"Building peace needs actions and not words," Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
"Any Israeli government that freezes settlement construction and accepts a settlement based on a two-state solution and to negotiate on all final status issues, including Jerusalem, will be considered a partner for peace," he said, listing issues opposed by several members of Netanyahu’s cabinet.
Vague on Palestinian State
The Likud party leader, who previously held the post of prime minister in 1996-1999, opposes the creation of a Palestinian state for the moment, saying economic conditions in the occupied West Bank must first be improved.
In their coalition agreement, Netanyahu and Labour Party leader Ehud Barak remained vague on the issue, saying the cabinet will work "to reach a comprehensive regional peace agreement" and respect previous international agreements Israel has signed.
They did not mention the word Palestinians or address the issue of a Palestinian state.
And discord between the partners emerged on Wednesday.
"Mr. Netanyahu is conscious of Obama’s positions and he understands that one must resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is at the heart of a regional peace arrangement," Labor MP Yitzhak Herzog told army radio.
"We will work toward peace in the Middle East."
But Likud MP Israel Katz said the party "will not give up neither on the Golan nor on Jerusalem and will neither accept a Palestinian state."
(Agencies via Alarabiya.net)