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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Coalition MKs said they were sending a message to the US on Wednesday when they voted in support of West Bank settlement blocs and in favor of a compromise deal with the settlers to retain some unauthorized outposts.
"The United States has to understand Israel's red lines when it comes to a final status solution," MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) told The Jerusalem Post.
Less than a week before the large international meeting in Annapolis, Maryland on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at which settlements and outposts are among the topics under discussion, the coalition in the Knesset plenum called for a statement of support for high-density Jewish population areas in the West Bank. The motion passed 39 to 18 with no abstentions.
The Labor party refused to support the motion that was otherwise affirmed by MKs from Kadima, Israel Beiteinu, the Gil Pensioners Party and Shas.
Instead, it joined opposition party Meretz and called for the evacuation of all 105 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank - a move that was rejected by 42 MKs and drew support from only 14.
The other coalition parties, in turn, favored making a deal with the settlers that could include authorizing some outposts and moving others to legal areas within the settlement blocs.
The votes ran counter to Palestinians' demands prior to Annapolis that Israel freeze construction activity in all West Bank settlements as part of the overall call by Palestinians for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders. Implicit in that is also a demand to take down the outposts, a move included in the road map.
Speaking on the plenum floor, Hasson said that one thing was very clear to him: "There is majority support among the Israeli public and in this house to preserve the settlement blocs." "Even the Palestinians understand that there are places that Israel won't evacuate under any circumstances. There should be no argument with respect to the continued development of these areas, particularly along the lines of natural growth."
He added that he was of the opinion that it had been a mistake to expend energy on the creation of small settlements and outposts.
"If we had invested energy in another [city like] Ariel and another Ma'aleh Adumim, and not in placing another 20 caravans here and 50 caravans there, maybe the settlement blocs would be much wider," Hasson said.
It is these settlement blocs, where the population density is high, "that will determine [Israel's] final borders," he added.
But National Union Party chairman Benny Elon said Israel should retain all the settlements. He added that it should take steps to place them under the regular Israeli legal system rather then the West Bank military one that governs them now.
National Religious Party chairman Zevulun Orlev spoke in defense of the unauthorized outposts and said that Israel had to deal with the overall issue of illegal construction throughout the country - including in Arab areas of east Jerusalem, the Negev and the Galilee - rather then focusing on the West Bank.
But Vice Premier Haim Ramon (Kadima) defended the government's position that Israel must remove 26 outposts constructed after former prime minister Ariel Sharon was elected in March 2001. According to Peace Now, some 50 such outposts have been built since that time.
But on the Knesset floor on Wednesday, Ramon held by the number 26. Already in March 2005, the cabinet voted to remove 24 of those outposts.
Ramon said that a number of the parliamentarians who now supported the outposts had belonged to Sharon's government, which had promised the United States it would demolish the fledgling communities.
The outposts, Ramon said, were not created to solve a housing problem, but rather to prevent Israel from reaching a territorial compromise in the West Bank.
Such action runs counter to the electoral will of the Israeli public, which voted into office a government that ran on a platform calling for the removal of outposts, he said.
This is not an issue of technical building laws, but rather of the will of the people, he said. Those who support the outposts are stating, "We are above democracy," Ramon said.
In addition, he said, this is an external diplomatic matter in which Israel has made a promise to the United States that it must fulfill. Failure to do so would harm Israeli-American relations, which are important when looking at Israel's overall security needs.
Ramon said the committee he chairs on outposts hoped to complete next month the work it began in September to determine which of the outposts could be considered legal and which could not.
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