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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On the eve of US President Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced Wednesday that he will respond to Obama's outreach to the Arabs by expanding West Bank settlements.
In a meeting with leaders of Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria at his Jerusalem office, the Shas chairman said he invited them while Obama was in the region, because the US president's speech reinforced the need to consolidate Israeli society.
"The American policies are not coincidental and everyone must know that the bad situation will only get worse in the near future," Yishai told the settler leaders.
"I promise to use my ministry, all the resources at my disposal and the ministry's impact on local authorities for the good of expanding settlements," he said.
Yishai told the settler leaders that he would not tolerate the removal of even a single outpost in Judea and Samaria. He said he did not understand why nothing was being done against some 57,000 illegal Arab buildings in the Negev, east Jerusalem and the Ramle-Lod area.
"In this difficult time, it's important to meet and strengthen one another and set policies accordingly," Yishai told The Jerusalem Post after the meeting. "We respect the United States and we want to maintain a positive relationship with the Americans, but we must stand up for our principles and we cannot accept dictates that the public cannot tolerate."
He called on the West Bank leaders to pressure other cabinet ministers to make their views in favor of supporting the settlements known to the public.
The leaders said after the meeting that they appreciated his help, but that they needed backing from other key ministers, especially Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Labor.
"We didn't ask Yishai for more funding than any other regions are getting," Gush Etzion Regional Council Chairman Shaul Goldstein said.
"We did ask him to stop the discrimination against Judea and Samaria in his ministry's funding and we received that commitment from him. But the defense minister has the real power over building in Judea and Samaria and he's not from Shas," Goldstein noted.
The settler leaders said Obama's statement about America being one of the largest Muslim countries reinforced to them how difficult their current situation was.
The head of Habayit Hayehudi, Science Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, will tour settlements south of Hebron during Obama's speech on Thursday, to strengthen Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's hand in his objections to Obama's insistence on stopping natural-growth construction in the settlements.
"That's a red line that we won't allow to be crossed," Herschkowitz said.