Defense Ministry okays new Gaza evacuee settlement

Saeb Erekat condemns construction, urges gov't to revoke authorization, saying it violates the new spirit of cooperation.

Disengage protest 298.88 (photo credit: [FIle])
Disengage protest 298.88
(photo credit: [FIle])
For the first time in more than five years the Defense Ministry has approved the construction of a new settlement over the pre-1967 borders in the Jordan Valley for some 30 families who were evacuated from Gaza in the summer of 2005. A government source told The Jerusalem Post that the plan did not negate international understanding, which prohibits the creation of new settlements over the pre-1967 borders. The source explained that the settlement, which is called Maskiot, was first used as an IDF Nahal base in 1981. The site received authorization for use as a settlement in 1986, the source said. But instead of becoming simply an independent community of families, a military college was moved onto the site in the mid-1990s in a project that included homes for families of the teachers and staff. The government source said that all that has happened now is that the military college is moving and the evacuee families will be allowed to move in to replace them. The source added that according to the government, the approvals given for the evacuee families to move to the site does not constitute the creation of a new settlement but rather an "adjustment" to the conditions for which the site has been used for more than a decade. Dubi Tal, head of the Regional Council for the Jordan Valley, said that many of the 20 communities under his jurisdiction were started in this way. He added that the government gave final authorization for several Jordan Valley communities only five or six years ago. According to Tal, the site would now become the home for some 30 families, of whom 23 are from the Gaza settlement of Shirat Hayam. Many of the Shirat Hayam families already live in temporary homes in the Jordan Valley, he said. He and the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip estimated that it could take as long as two or three more years to prepare the site for the families. Tal added that such preparations would involve the construction of new homes. Both he and settler spokeswoman Emily Amrusi said that initial approval for the move was first given by former prime minister Ariel Sharon over a year ago. Some six bureaucratic stages had to be completed before work on the site could begin, Tal said. The Defense Ministry granted final approval for the project only this week, Tal said. He estimated that construction work would begin on the site in the next few weeks. A government source told The Jerusalem Post that no authorization had been given for a group to move to the site, but rather it was approved for habitation by individual families. This approval differs from group approvals that have been given to other groups from Gaza, the source said. But both Amrusi and Tal said they were looking at it as a group move. Amrusi said she was glad the plan to move the families had been approved even though she was frustrated by the delay of more than a year. She chalked it up to political opposition on the part of left wing politicians. She said that final approval was granted as part of the ongoing talks between the settlers and the government regarding some kind of an agreement on the unauthorized outposts. Amrusi said that the settlers had told the government it was hard to trust that it would keep its word given that it had failed to move on the Maskiot project for over a year.