'Barak promised to remove outposts by October'

Labor faction head: Party should leave coalition unless outposts dismantled in next 2 months.

MK ben-simon labor 248 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
MK ben-simon labor 248 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Defense Minister Ehud Barak promised Labor faction chairman Daniel Ben-Simon to begin removing 23 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank by the return of the Knesset from its summer recess on October 12, Ben-Simon revealed Tuesday during a tour of the outposts organized by Peace Now. Barak's office responded by reiterating that the outposts would in fact be removed in "upcoming weeks." The statements were made just one day before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was set to meet with US envoy George Mitchell in London on the settlements issue. Israel has promised the US that it would remove these outposts, which were constructed after March 2001. Ben-Simon called the outposts "shameful" and said that Labor should leave the coalition if they are not removed. Four of the 13 Labor MKs opposed joining the coalition and only one more would be needed to split the party, so Ben-Simon is key to the national-unity government's survival. Labor rebel MK Ophir Paz-Pines, Meretz head Haim Oron and former Meretz MKs Zehava Gal-On and Tzali Reshef also took part in the tour, which was intended to counterbalance the pro-outposts tour taken last week by four ministers, led by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon. Ya'alon, of the Likud, caused an uproar last week when he called for legalizing the outposts and condemned Peace Now as "a virus." The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip said in response to the tour that clearly the left-wing MKs have forgotten that the voters in the last election declared their support for a right-wing government. It noted ironically that former Labor defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer had given initial authorization to the Nofei Nehemia outpost near the Kfar Tapuah settlement, which the MKs had visited. The Binyamin Citizen's Committee said that visit was intended to be "provocative" and the settlers had not been notified in advance of the visit, which included the Givat Haroeh outpost, just outside the Eli settlement. The MKs made no mention of the terror attack near there earlier this month, in which a Palestinian sniper wounded two teens, said the committee. It added that the visit and the statements made by the MKs only encourage Palestinian terrorists to continue to attack settlers. Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika chastised the MKs for not equally pressing the government to tackle the issue of illegal Palestinian construction. He added that the outposts had been established with the consent of the government, and had "wrongfully been classified as un-authorized." He asked the government to lift all "White Paper" restrictions forbidding Jewish growth in the region. Peace Now, he said, is funded by foreign governments "whose objective is to cause internal rift in Israel should be closed down." A Ma'agar Mohot poll sponsored by the Right-leaning Independent Media Review and Analysis (IMRA), found that a majority of Israelis, 51 percent, agreed with Ya'alon that the outposts should be legalized, 24% disagreed and the rest of the respondents did not express an opinion. Forty-one percent of Israelis agreed with Ya'alon that Peace Now had damaged Israel, while 19% disagreed. The poll found that most Israelis, 52%, opposed a purported deal in which Netanyahu would agree to a settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria in return for Arab gestures, such as the opening of Israeli representation offices or permission to fly over Saudi Arabia en route to the Far East. Only 33% supported the deal. Some 47% said that if Netanyahu agreed to a temporary settlement freeze, US President Barack Obama would pressure him to continue the freeze indefinitely. Just 25% disagreed. The Jerusalem Post reported last week that right-wing ministers were furious that a de facto freeze of new construction permits for projects in West Bank settlements, which has existed since Netanyahu took office in March, was never brought to a vote in the cabinet. The Ma'agar Mohot poll found that 63% said this was improper, while 22% called it proper. Regarding a possible deal to release Hamas terrorists from jail in return for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, 76% said Israel should insist on verification that Schalit was alive before any live Palestinian was released. Fifteen percent disagreed.