Barak draws fire after isolated settlements included in priority map

Barak draws fire after i

Defense Minister Ehud Barak endured attacks on Sunday night from the Prime Minister's Office, the opposition and from inside his Labor Party after the cabinet passed a revised national priorities map that includes isolated West Bank settlements. The map passed despite the opposition of the five Labor ministers, after Barak failed to persuade Netanyahu to remove the isolated settlements from the priority list or at least delay the vote. Barak blamed Friday's arson attack on a mosque on the isolated settlements, though no one has yet been apprehended. "There are some small settlements that have consistently been involved in extremist incidents like what happened with the mosque," Barak told the cabinet. "I don't think they should be given a prize." But sources in the Prime Minister's Office said that Barak's office had drafted the map and that he was personally involved in including the settlements. They accused Barak of backtracking for political reasons. Labor ministers privately confirmed that Barak expressed his outrage only because of their insistence, following Labor's ministerial meeting prior to the cabinet meeting. The Labor ministers condemned the decision but said they would stay in the government. "Even though I don't accept this decision, I don't think it should break up the government," Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog told reporters after the vote. "We can continue sitting in the government if, in the near future, I see significant diplomatic progress and economic programs that we support advance." Herzog said he opposed giving benefits to communities that he did not believe would permanently remain part of Israel, but that the decision did not detract from the settlement moratorium, which he said mattered more. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer criticized the map from a security perspective. He said that security considerations should not have been the top priority when devising the map, because in the event of war the center of the country would be threatened more than isolated settlements. Labor rebel MKs bashed Barak and his ministerial counterparts in the party. They said they should not have remained in a government that gave a financial boost to isolated settlements. "The time has come to stop playing games," MK Ophir Paz-Pines said. "Netanyahu is making a mockery of Labor. There is no benefit to Labor remaining in the government as an irrelevant minority. Labor isn't even a fig leaf anymore." Rebel MK Yuli Tamir added that "the government's decision on the map negated the freeze and proved that Labor had become a joke in Netanyahu's government." Kadima and Meretz filed no-confidence votes over the map. "It's a political map with a cynical message of socio-economic closed-mindedness to the periphery and the settlement blocs and diplomatic blindness that negates Netanyahu's declaration of support for two states for two peoples," a Kadima spokesman said. "Netanyahu proved that he is a weak prime minister who surrenders to political pressure and uses the public's coffers to pay hush money to the hilltop youth in unauthorized outposts." Meretz leader Haim Oron predicted that the vote would "cause an unnecessary conflict with the American administration and the international community. "Despite his rhetorical skills, Netanyahu cannot explain this decision to the workers who have lost their jobs but whose employment is not on this government's map."