Coalition rhetoric heats up as W. Bank freeze nears end

Tension rises among government ministers on the eve of Washington direct talks.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
August 24, 2010 03:16
2 minute read.
The east Jerusalem neighborhood Silwan.

311_Silwan houses. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

A month before the end of the West Bank new-construction moratorium and on the eve of direct peace talks in Washington, tensions rose Monday among government ministers regarding building in settlements on the day that the freeze expires.

“Building will continue as usual, as normal,” promised National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau (Israel Beiteinu) during a midday interview on Radio Kol Chai.

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“Everyone will build as he wants to and needs to.”

Landau threatened that if “government ministers do not do what is demanded of them by their positions, they must know that a solution will be found within the government.

We are part of a government that every part of which must know that they are not a lone player.”

Landau’s comments came after he was reminded that Defense Minister Ehud Barak must approve on every building project in the West Bank, even after the conclusion of the freeze.

Should his fellow ministers turn out to be uncooperative about building, Landau said that he would “make sure that other ministers resign. My role in this government is to make sure that its policies are carried out.”

Although Landau’s interlocutor mentioned Barak, on Friday it was actually a Likud minister, Minister for Improvement of Government Services Michael Eitan, who sent out a letter to party members in which he advocated a partial extension of the moratorium.

Eitan’s letter detailed a plan to reshape Likud’s settlement policy, including moving outposts to established settlement blocs and freezing Israeli building in areas that Israel proposes to turn over to Palestinian control, while allowing Israeli citizens to chose to continue living in those areas.

“The goals of the new settlement policy must be more limited than Likud governments’ policies since Menachem Begin’s administration 30 years ago,” explained Eitan. “The borders of settlement must come in line with the current Likud government’s policy which is based on territorial concession.”

Eitan’s plan proposed continued building in settlement blocs, in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and in the Jewish Quarter of Hebron, while evacuating illegal outposts, but clarified that the freeze on other areas did not necessarily signify that they were destined to be handed over to the Palestinian Authority.

Eitan’s manifesto was, however, quite different from comments made last week by fellow Likud minister, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. Katz visited the Gush Etzion community of Efrat, where a number of large building projects have been held up by the freeze, and told residents that he did not foresee the possibility of evacuating any community.

He also expressed hope that building throughout the West Bank would be immediately renewed with the expiration of the moratorium order on September 26.


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