Former Gaza settlers hope for housing permits after peace talks

West Bank construction frozen ahead of possible deal with the Palestinians.

caravan 88 (photo credit: )
caravan 88
(photo credit: )
In a small caravan park in the settlement of Ariel, Eilat Cohen-Zada and her seven children are waiting for Annapolis to fail. Cohen-Zada and her family, who were evacuated from their home in Netzarim during the disengagement, came to the West Bank to start their new lives. Along with 40 other families from Netzarim, they agreed to live in the caravans until a new community could be built for them in Ariel. "God willing, we will still return to Gush Katif, but otherwise our homes could only be in the West Bank," said Cohen Zada. "We have the patience to wait, and soon we will find a way to build a new community here, where we know God wants us to be." Time, however, is not on her family's side. On Sunday, the Knesset's State Comptroller Committee toured the settler's caravan park in Ariel. The MKs demanded that more be done to provide the settlers with permanent housing solutions. The mayor of Ariel joined in their demands, issuing his own threat to the government. If building permits were not issued for a new neighborhood for the settlers by April of 2008, he said, the city of Ariel would evict them from the caravan park. "This is being done for the good of the settlers, we hope this will pressure the government to give them permits," explained a spokesman for Ariel. Since last June, when Ehud Barak became defense minister, no new permits have been issued for construction in the settlements. In addition, the Defense Ministry earlier this month refused to authorize a 48-unit housing project in Ariel. While construction continues in settlements such as Ma'aleh Adumim, where dozens of building projects are underway, only a small 32-unit apartment complex is currently under construction in Ariel. No explanation has been given for the sudden 83 percent drop in new housing permits for the settlements, from 1,550 in 2006 to only 260 in the first half of 2007. Defense Ministry officials have either denied that a policy change has taken place with regard to construction in the settlements or have refused to comment on the matter. But other governmental sources have speculated that the lack of new housing permits is meant to bolster the upcoming peace talks with the Palestinians. "The prime minister is doing this because he thinks it is what the Americans want," said Itzik Vazana, spokesman for the Netzarim evacuees. "We know the peace talks won't go anywhere. It is just another bubble that will pop. Then we hope that the building permits will come." The Chairman of the State Comptroller Committee, MK Zevulen Orlev (NU-NRP), said he was shocked that it the government would deny the settlers a permanent housing solution. Last week, Kadima MK Ze'ev Elkin passed a first reading on a bill that would guarantee all former Gaza settlers a housing permit within one year. Even once those permits are granted, however, it could take two or three more years to complete most of the building projects. "We are looking at five years, maybe more," said Cohen-Zada. "Governments fall, the politics change. We're patient, and in time we will build a new community." Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.