Tells settler leaders outposts causing Israel damage; Yesha chair: "Leftists" leading Barak on.
By YAAKOV KATZ, TOVAH LAZAROFF
The government will insist on the removal of illegal West Bank outposts even if the use of force is required, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday during a meeting with settler leaders in Tel Aviv.
Barak said he would prefer to remove the outposts through dialogue with the settler leaders.
"If it won't be by dialogue, though, we will act swiftly and aggressively to enforce the law," he said.
He issued his ultimatum on the morning of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's return from his first meeting at the White House with US President Barack Obama.
In Washington, Obama spoke with Netanyahu about his need to make good on Israel's unfulfilled promise to the United States to remove those unauthorized West Bank outposts that were erected after March 2001. He also asked him to stop all construction in the settlements.
Netanyahu, who ran on a right-wing platform with respect to the settlements, has so far refused to commit to either request.
On Wednesday settler leaders tried to persuade the government to stand firm against US pressure to halt the building of new homes in the settlements.
In a meeting with Barak that they initiated, they asked him to unfreeze construction permits for West Bank settlements.
According to Peace Now, no new tenders have been issued for construction of apartment units in settlements since November 2008, when 40 were given for Efrat and 50 for Ariel.
Although construction has continued, it is based on old permits and settler leaders are increasingly concerned that soon they will have to stop building.
Settlers had expected that with a Likud-lead government, building of new homes would pick up.
Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said he had also asked for a meeting with Netanyahu to press him on the importance of continuing to build.
"A construction freeze has a more acute political implication than any declaration" that Barak might make about the outposts, Dayan told The Jerusalem Post.
Freezing permits and perhaps grinding construction to a halt did more to ensure the creation of a Palestinian state than any threat to take down outposts, Dayan said.
"We see lifting this freeze as the most important issue on the table," he said.
During the meeting in Tel Aviv, which also dealt with security issues in the settlements, he warned Barak that if he did not start issuing construction permits, the settlers would break off all dialogue with the Defense Ministry regarding a voluntary evacuation of the unauthorized outposts.
This dialogue has been going on for three years, and there have been similar impasses in the past.
The US wants to see the outposts eliminated. But the dialogue between the settlers and the government has focused on relocating them to nearby legal locations within the West Bank.
To date the only significant movement on the removal of 24 outposts whose evacuation was approved by the cabinet in 2005 has been an agreement between the government and the Council of Jewish Communities to relocate the Migron outpost to the nearby Adam settlement.
There are 100 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank erected between 1995 and 2005. According to Peace Now, in the past two years 309 new caravans have been placed in these outposts.
Dayan said he made it quite clear during the talk with Barak that no more progress would be made on an agreement to remove outposts until construction had returned to normal.
The current situation "is unbearable," he said.
But Barak said that the continued existence of the unauthorized outposts caused Israel damage in the international arena and weakened the settlement movement in the West Bank.
"We cannot compromise when it comes to enforcing the law," he said. "A sovereign country needs to uphold the law and impose the authority of the state on its citizens."
In an interview with Israel Radio after the meeting, the Defense Ministry's settlement adviser Eitan Broshi said there was no connection between the issue of unauthorized outposts and legal construction in the settlements.
Settler leaders did not understand that their reality had changed, Broshi said. No matter where in the country, not everyone who wanted to remain on his moshav or kibbutz got to do so, he said.
It is important to distinguish between authorized and unauthorized communities, and between those locations that the government believed it would retain and those that it won't, Broshi said.
No one was talking about evacuating legal settlements, he said. It was a matter of enforcing the law by taking down unauthorized ones, he added.
Judea and Samaria should not be a place where the law was ignored and everyone did what he wanted, he said.
Peace Now director-general Yariv Oppenheimer accused the settler leaders of providing misleading information about construction. More homes were built last year in Judea and Samaria than in Jerusalem or Haifa, he said.
Defense officials would not say how long Barak planned to allocate for a dialogue with the settlers before he would order the IDF and the Israel Police to evacuate the outposts.
Among those who participated in the meeting with Barak were Council of Settlements director-general Pinchas Wallerstein, Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Masika, Hebron Hills Regional Council chairman Zviki Bar-Hai and Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein.
A portion of the meeting was devoted to security concerns such as the lifting of roadblocks, and lack of funds to safeguard the settlements.
Barak ordered Defense Ministry Director-General Pinchas Buhris to allocate the necessary funds to improve settlement security. Barak's office released a statement saying that the money would be transferred in the near future. The money is to be used by settlements for security measures that include fences and radar warning systems against infiltrations, as well as rapid-response security teams.
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