On November 12, news broke in the Israeli press that the Ministry of Construction had published three tenders for the construction of these tens of thousands of units, which included 1,250 units in E-1 (adjacent to East Jerusalem) and 4,500 units in Atarot (for a new settlement in East Jerusalem). It is clear that this was a rogue action taken by Minister of Construction Uri Ariel, without Netanyahu’s advance knowledge or consent. It is equally clear that Netanyahu had established operating procedures that permitted Ariel to engage in such activities without Netanyahu’s explicit approval, giving Ariel room to maneuver and leaving the Prime Minister the ability to distance himself from Ariel’s actions.
According to insider reports, Netanyahu learned of the tenders only hours before the story broke. His initial response was to instruct that the E-1 component be removed from the tenders, apparently in the hope that this alone would deflect international criticism. It did not, and the deluge of protests over the tenders led Netanyahu to announce – within a matter of hours – that he had instructed Minister Ariel to “reconsider” them – a safe-facing euphemism for their cancellation.
The issue did not end there, however. Minister Ariel defied the Prime Minister’s instructions and the tenders were not cancelled. The tender period (the period during which the tenders were open and bids were accepted) had been originally scheduled to end on November 28, and on that date, the tenders were still intact (and listed online as open for bids). It was only on November 29, after the matter received new coverage in the Israeli press – generating another sharp international response – that Netanyahu acted to definitively cancel them.
The Prime Minister’s response in this last instance was noteworthy. He denied the accuracy of the press report, when in fact the reports were completely accurate. He asserted that the tenders had already been rescinded (which they hadn’t) and accused the Palestinians of trumping up a crisis as a pretext for leaving the negotiations (which they weren’t). In short, he apparently preferred taking a hit to his own credibility over paying hard political cash by means of publicly reprimanding, or even firing, Uri Ariel.