Barak hopes for deal with settlers

Defense minister meets with Yesha Council leaders, but Samaria Council head boycotts meeting.

ehud barak 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
ehud barak 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak hopes to reach an agreement with settler leaders that will enable the evacuation of 23 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank without the need for military or police intervention, officials said Monday. They spoke with The Jerusalem Post following a 90-minute face-to-face meeting Barak held at his Tel Aviv office with leading members of the Council of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. It was the first time in several months that Barak sat down with settler leaders to discuss the ongoing standoff over the government's declared intention to evacuate 23 unauthorized outposts constructed after March 2001. Israel has promised the United States that it would remove these outposts. During the meeting, Barak stressed that the outposts would be evacuated in line with decisions made by previous Israeli governments led by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. "This is a law-abiding government and people cannot just do what they want," he told the settler leaders. Officials said that the meeting was part of the ongoing negotiations with the settlers toward an outpost deal. But settler leaders who met with Barak for the second time since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office in March stressed that the meeting was not part of any negotiations toward a deal to voluntarily evacuate the outposts. Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said there could be no such deal until the government lifted its de facto freeze on new construction permits. The lack of new construction has been like an absence of air for the residents of Judea and Samaria, said Dayan. Just as underwater swimmers do, they needed to rise to the surface to breath, Dayan said. He attended the meeting along with the council's director-general Pinchas Wallerstein, Binyamin Regional Council head Avi Ro'eh, Karnei Shomron Council head Herzl Ben-Arie, Amana head Ze'ev Hever and Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel. Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika boycotted the meeting. "This is a political farce - the cards have been stacked ahead of this game. This is not about legality of the outposts. Barak's right hand has been evading proper procedure and for years has refused to sign legal building permits because of his political views, and now his left hand wishes to destroy those same communities that he calls illegal because he himself did not approve them." Mesika said, "Netanyahu is hiding behind Barak as he kneels to American pressure, and Ehud Barak is hiding behind weak excuses of upholding law and order." But Ben-Arie said he believed it was important to present Barak with the correct information regarding the legal status of the outposts and the harm caused by the lack of new construction projects. In his settlement of Karnei Shomron, said Ben-Arie, there were more than 100 newly married couples who could not find housing. "I hope he wants to open a dialogue with us to solve the problems," said Ben-Arie. Barak told them that no decision to freeze settlement activity had been taken, but that the US and Israel were engaged in talks about it. He said that such a freeze was a diplomatic issue between Israel and the United States and was not connected to the illegal outposts. But Dayan and other settler leaders said they explained to Barak that many of the outposts were fledgling communities that had begun with all the proper authorizations, but that final approvals were never signed because the government's policy had changed. "Any attempt to make one-sided, unilateral, forceful evacuations will have catastrophic consequences," warned Dayan. At the end of the meeting, the sides agreed to maintain an open line of communication and to meet again.