A presidential visit boosts Ariel's legitimacy

Peres sees no contradiction between his belief in a two-state solution and a rosy future for the Samaria city.

Ariel Peres 224 (photo credit: Courtesy )
Ariel Peres 224
(photo credit: Courtesy )
The city of Ariel lacks building permits and the promised West Bank security barrier has yet to make it to its doorstep, but last week it received a boost of support from President Shimon Peres as it celebrated its 30th anniversary. Although Palestinians have longed claimed that Ariel is among the territory that Israel would have to give up in any future deal, Peres saw no contradiction between his belief in a two-state solution and a rosy future for the Samaria city. Peres, who 30 years ago sent the city's first residents letters blessing their new endeavor, came in person last Wednesday night to help thousands of its citizens celebrate their anniversary in a large outdoor celebration. "I'm the president of the state and I think I should go to every place that is recognized by the government of Israel," Peres told The Jerusalem Post in response to being asked whether he had entertained any doubts about participating in the 30th anniversary celebrations. Asked whether his attendance had any bearing on Ariel's permanency on the map of Israel, Peres replied that he could only relate to the present and not the future. Although there was no question in Peres's mind about going to Ariel on Wednesday night, some members of his staff were hesitant - and somewhat surprised - by his unwavering decision. The official word from Peres's spokeswoman, Ayelet Frish, was that as the president of the whole country and all its citizens, Peres would accept an invitation from every settlement, village, town and city celebrating a milestone anniversary. "Ariel is part of Israel and the president will not enter into any political controversy related to Ariel," Frish said. Still, as he stood on the stage, after a fireworks lit the night sky, he told the residents, "I wish you and your city a bright future." Of all the settlement blocs, Ariel's location - some 16 kilometers over the Green Line - has made its future seem more tenuous than that of the other West Bank cities that hug the pre-1967 border. It's included within the route of the security barrier, albeit one of the fence's unfinished portions. In the last two years, the Defense Ministry has authorized construction permits for only 48 homes in Ariel, even though the city of some 18,000 residents needs several hundred such permits annually. So for Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman, Peres's presence at the city's anniversary celebration was a sign that the city has an important place in the country's future. It meant, that "we are an indivisible part of Israel," Nachman told the Post. Speaking on Wednesday night, Peres said that no matter what one's opinion was regarding settlements, no one could argue about the achievements of this city, which has absorbed immigrants and hosts a college. But outside of the city park, protesters from the Right and Left did argue about Ariel. A small group of Peace Now activists who had traveled to Ariel held signs and shouted slogans as they stood opposite the park where the celebration was being held. "The fate of Netzarim [an evacuated Gaza settlement] is the fate of Ariel," the group's executive secretary, Yariv Oppenheimer, yelled into a megaphone. "You're 16 kilometers over the Green Line. Wake up, this is a settlement - you will have to go," he said. On the opposite of the road a crowd of right-wing activists, including Baruch Marzel of Hebron, shouted right back. "A leftist is a person who sells his home!" they yelled. Some held signs that said, "Peace Now is like a knife in the back."