Edelstein bids to force Barak to end ‘silent freeze’

Likud minister plans to call on gov't to order the defense minister authorize new construction in West Bank settlement blocs.

Yuli Edelstein 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Yuli Edelstein 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Likud Minister Yuli Edelstein plans to call on Sunday for the government to order Defense Minister Ehud Barak to authorize new construction in West Bank settlement blocs.
Barring that, he told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, he planned to call for the government to strip Barak of his power to authorize settlement building and to create instead a new ministerial committee for Judea and Samaria that would permit such construction.
RELATED:Defying the US, PA pushes for UN anti-settlement vote Washington Watch: Price of Peace Hague: 'Occupation is eroding int'l support for Israel'
Edelstein said that he intended to bring the matter up with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Likud ministerial meeting that regularly convenes before the cabinet meeting.
“This Sunday I will demand that either there will be change in policy or structure,” Edelstein said.
He said that he did not know if there was enough cabinet support to pass such a measure.
But he said there was enough frustration within the Likud at the absence of construction in the settlement blocs, that he believed Netanyahu must take his call seriously.
“The prime minister understands that we cannot go on like this. It is difficult to explain even to ourselves why we are not authorizing new building in Ma’aleh Adumim. There will be and there must be a change in attitude,” Edelstein said.
He added that he was not afraid to stand out alone on issues and had done so in the past.
“But I will not be alone on this one,” he added.
Many in the Likud had expected that Netanyahu would authorize new construction once the 10-month moratorium on such building expired on November 26.
Instead, Likud politicians like Edelstein along with the settlers have argued that a silent freeze exists. It is possible to break foundations in some of the small, isolated settlements, but many of the larger settlements that Israel hopes to retain during any final status agreement with the Palestinians lack construction permits.
No new building can occur in large settlements – such as Betar Illit, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel and Efrat – without authorization from Barak.
Edelstein is the first minister to publicly state his intention to act on the issue. But already this week, a number of ministers have issued statements in support of new settlement construction, starting with Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who called on the government to approve new building while he toured the Efrat community.
Other Likud ministers issued statements in support of new building to the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip in the last two days, including Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Minister of Culture and Sports Limor Livat, Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon.
“We have to renew building in Judea and Samaria immediately,” Katz said.
Settler sources said that the council had intended to embark on a massive campaign against the silent freeze, but held off when they saw that the ministers were seriously pursuing a change in policy.
Their call and Edelstein’s announcement comes on the eve of a much anticipated debate in the United Nations Security Council on continued settlement construction, with the possibility that the council could condemn Israel.
Many in the UN believe that such construction is illegal and that Israeli settlement activity is in violation of international law. The Palestinians have insisted that it is a stumbling block to peace and that no direct negotiations can be held as long as such building continues. Israel has rejected this premise and insists that talks must be held without pre-conditions. It has long held that construction can continue until a peace agreement is reached with the Palestinians.
Edelstein said that it was important at this time to take a stand in favor of settlements that Israel expects to retain.
“Who would take seriously our statements that these areas will stay under Israeli jurisdiction if we ourselves are first freezing them and then continuing it de-facto?” he said.