Barak tries to reassure settlers

Protesters try to block

Defense Minister Ehud Barak tried to quell tensions with the settler community Wednesday evening, telling two of its leaders the settlement blocs would remain in Israeli hands when a final-status agreement was reached with the Palestinians. "Settlement blocs will be an integral part of Israel in any future negotiations with the Palestinians. The Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea are regions that are dear to my heart," Barak said. But his words fell on mainly deaf ears, as the bulk of the settler leaders boycotted the meeting, which came after civil administration inspectors forced their way into settlements for the third day in a row to enforce the 10-month moratorium on new Jewish construction projects in the West Bank. Settlers sent out a message to the media to make sure that it was understood that they had no interest in speaking with Barak and that their focus now was on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is expected to meet with them on Thursday. It will be Netanyahu's first formal meeting with the settlers since he took office in March. The meeting comes as tensions between settlers, the IDF and the government have reached a fever pitch. Even moderate settler leader Avi Na'im agreed to stand with protesters at the gates of the Beit Arye settlement, as residents blocked the path of civil administration inspectors who arrived to check if construction in the community complied with the moratorium. Police arrested Na'im, who is a member of the Likud Party, but quickly released him. As the inspectors pushed their way into some 30 settlements and handed out 12 stop-work orders, they were greeted in many cases by either a closed gate, or settlers who blocked their path. Four other settlers were arrested and one was detained. In total, inspectors have handed out more than 70 stop-work orders in the past three days, and have visited most of the settlements. In a move that was seen as a gesture of appeasement to settlers, the civil administration on Wednesday evening issued a statement which said that work could continue on 84 homes that had originally been frozen. In his meeting with the two settler leaders who would speak with him, Eliezer Hisdai of Alfei Menashe and Dahan Mordechai of Megilot, Barak told them the measure, which was hard for them to swallow, was necessary. He said "the connection and coordination with the US are essential to Israel from political and security points of view. "I know that this step is a difficult one, but this is a step essential to the State of Israel today," he continued. "Part of all of our duties as leaders of the country and public is to show responsibility and fulfill the government's decisions and the state's laws. The leadership of Judea and Samaria is responsible, and I am sure it will act within the boundaries of the law," Barak said. But the settler leadership has vowed to fight the measure. In a defiant gesture the heads of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (the Yesha Council) laid a cornerstone for a new synagogue in Efrat on Wednesday. Stretched across the entryway to the settlement was a sign that said, "No entry to Bibi's inspectors." As the settler leaders stood next to wet concrete on the synagogue's foundation, they wore T-shirts that read, "In Efrat we are defrosting the freeze." "We came here to continue building and to demonstrate that in a democracy it is unacceptable to impose a military edict on civilians," said Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein. Yesha Council head Dani Dayan later told The Jerusalem Post that in his meeting with Netanyahu on Thursday he planned to tell him that the settler leadership did not intend to cooperate in any way. Late Wednesday afternoon the Yesha Council held its fourth emergency meeting in the past eight days. Senior government sources said that while the government expected ideological resistance to the moratorium on housing starts in Judea and Samaria, they admitted that some of the practical issues that have come up were not anticipated. According to the sources, any decision made on a law that impacted on "real people" did not always take into consideration all the "intricacies." "Things will be made clearer in the coming days," the official said, adding his belief that the initial problems involved in implementing the moratorium would get ironed out. For instance, earlier in the week the civil administration inspectors went to the settlement of Kedar to deliver a stop-work order to people who should not have gotten one, the official said. The Prime Minister's Office has also received a number of calls from people saying they had been told they can't close in a porch, build a pergola or install an air conditioner. Another official speculated that the supervisors rushed out to issued the stop-work orders immediately because of concern that if they had given a week's notice, work would have begun on innumerable projects in the settlements. Government officials deflected the argument that in Israel there was "nothing as permanent as a temporary arrangement," saying that extending the moratorium throughout the West Bank - including in the large settlement blocs like Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion - showed that the Prime Minister meant what he said on Tuesday: that the building would continue once the 10-month moratorium period was up. "The very fact that the work is stopping inside the large blocs sends the signal that the moratorium is temporary, because everyone knows that Israel will continue to build in those areas, it is obvious," one official said. Barak, who met Netanyahu to discuss implementation of the moratorium, said that he issued directives to establish an "exceptions committee," and that a directive would also be issued saying the moratorium order did not relate to "air conditioners, windows or closing in a porch". "The same is true of a sewage installation," Barak said on Israeli Radio. "If it is an installation connected to an existing, established project, it will be judged on its own merits. But if it is connected to a project that has not begun, then the order prevents its building for 10 months." Regarding the settlement blocs, Barak said that in the government's eyes "there is a clear difference between settlement blocs like Gush Etzion, Efrat, Ma'aleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Ariel/Kedumim, and the small settlements close to the border. Those blocs will be part of the State of Israel in any final agreement we see. "The fate and future of the isolated settlements on the other side of the barrier or fence will be determined in the negotiations, when the final agreement will be discussed." Barak also warned of the damage slack enforcement of the moratorium could cause, saying "any split-second wavering in implementing the security cabinet's decision will cause political damage to the State of Israel." But settlers claimed it was Barak who was damaging the state. In the afternoon, settlers blocked the path of inspectors in Har Bracha, and in Avnei Hefetz, a group of women and children held inspectors at bay for several hours. In Elon Moreh, some 60 settlers tried to block the inspectors from entering, but police managed to disperse the crowds. Two people were arrested in Tzomet Hatamar in Samaria for throwing rocks at security personnel. "We are prepared to do all that is necessary to carry out our duties," the Judea and Samaria Police spokesman added. A civil administration spokesman said, "We are working closely with security forces to make sure that the inspections go smoothly. We are working to ensure that the government's decisions are implemented."