outpost w. bank 224 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Last week, angered by their belief that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has halted all new construction plans in the West Bank, settlers broke off talks with his office over the possible voluntary evacuation of some unauthorized outposts.
A Barak spokesman said he could not comment on the settlers' claim.
Last Thursday, the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip wrote him a sharply worded protest letter.
"We don't see any point in continuing to talk under this [construction] freeze," the council said.
Council chairman Dani Dayan told The Jerusalem Post Sunday he viewed Barak's actions as a form of "blackmail" to pressure council leaders to conclude the negotiations.
The two sides had been looking at a deal involving 24 outposts constructed after former prime minister Ariel Sharon took office in March 2001, which Israel had promised the United States it would remove.
Portions of the deal called for those outposts within that group which were built on private Palestinian land to be moved to areas in the West Bank that were authorized for construction and which were likely to remain in Israeli hands as part of a final-status deal with the Palestinians.
Talks to that effect began in the spring of 2006, but came to a standstill when relations between former defense minister Amir Peretz and the settlers soured last winter. The talks began again in earnest when Barak took over the Defense Ministry in June.
In anticipation that the deal would go through, the council had even publicized a warning in its weekly newsletter to residents of some of those outposts, including Migron, warning of a possible pending evacuation.
But last week, Dayan said, the council got so angry with Barak's new tactics that "we informed him that we are disengaging. We are not the ministry's evacuation contractors."
The council, he said, "had gone to the talks to find a realistic solution we can live with. But we see that there is no clear policy."
At every meeting with Barak's adviser for settlement affairs, Eitan Broshi, "we start from square one," Dayan said.
The council, he said, had come to the talks with the hope of preventing any further clashes between settlers and security forces over the issue of the unauthorized outposts. "We do not see the same readiness from the ministry's side," he said.
Among the breaking points for the council was Barak's decision to halt an already approved construction project in the settlement of Elkana, which lies some three kilometers away from the Green Line and which is on the Israeli side of the security fence.
"We are within the consensus," Elkana Local Council head Yehuda Cohen told the Post, adding that he believed his settlement would be among those retained by Israel in final-status talks.
Cohen said he was informed, to his surprise, late last month that the defense minister had halted an already authorized construction project for some 300 housing units only days before the construction tenders were to be published.
"This has never happened before," he said.
The project, which was to be built in stages, was for "second-generation" couples who had grown up in the settlement, Cohen said.
He said he had been informed from sources that the act was directly related to the outpost negotiations, even though his settlement does not have an outpost constructed after March 2001 within its jurisdiction.
Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, who is a liaison between the settlers and the Prime Minister's Office and who has been involved in the talks, said it was a mistake for Barak to freeze settlement construction.
"I hope the prime minister will find a way to break the impasse," he said.