'Freezing building means freezing kids'

Settler leaders, Likud M

Adam settlement 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Adam settlement 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, who is not a member of the security cabinet, on Wednesday night issued fierce criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's decision to impose a ten-month moratorium on new construction permits in West Bank settlements. "Freezing the building means freezing having children and later concessions and transferring Jews who want to settle the land of Israel," he said. "I will not give my hand to a move that will endanger Israel's security without bringing us any closer to peace." Also Wednesday night, Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin, who voted in favor of the deal, told Channel 1 that his vote did not go toward freezing construction but for building a smaller number of dwellings plus some key public buildings built. "Ten months eventually pass," Begin said. Meanwhile, settlement leaders and a number of young Likud parliamentarians on Wednesday accused Netanyahu of betraying his party's principles by caving into the Americans and Palestinians. They crowded into a small room in the administrative office of the Givat Ze'ev Local Council, a settlement located just outside of Jerusalem, to watch Netanyahu speak on television. In an emergency meeting, they called upon everyone who supported the settlement enterprise to oppose the measure. Likud MK Danny Dannon called on Netanyahu to seek approval for the measure at Monday's Likud faction meeting. "If Netanyahu does not do so, I will personally convene an urgent meeting of the Likud Central Committee to correct this betrayal of commitments we made to our voters," said Dannon. "We were elected to advance a certain platform, we promised that we would build in Judea and Samaria," said Dannon, who added that a freeze goes against the Likud Party's principles. "This is not the party that I grew up in or on whose behalf we were voted into office. I called to all those in the party who clearly support the settlements: we cannot be silent." He warned Netanyahu, "If you chose to follow the Left and to become [Ehud] Barak's subcontractor, we will oppose you." MK Tzipi Hotovely said, "Judea and Samaria are supposed to be on the same level as Jerusalem." It was a strategic mistake to differentiate between east Jerusalem and settlements in Judea and Samaria, as if one was legitimate and the other was not, she added. "Netanyahu has betrayed the very principles for which he stood for all his life," said Danny Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. He said that Netanyahu was the person who, under former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, said that freezing settlement construction was a code for territorial concessions and would destroy the settlement enterprise. All his life Netanyahu has spoken against unilateral steps, and almost immediately upon entering office he has taken unilateral steps, even when the Palestinians have warned that they are worthless, said Dayan. In protest, settlers refused to meet on Thursday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, insisting they would only meet with Netanyahu. Shas, meanwhile, released a statement explaining why its ministers absented themselves from the vote. Interior Minister Eli Yishai said while he wanted to be loyal to the prime minister, he could not agree to freezing construction even for a single day. He warned that the move would make Israel look weak. Science Minister Daniel Herschkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi), who has observer status in the security cabinet, called on Netanyahu to now bring the freeze to a vote by the entire cabinet. "A right-wing government must encourage settlements, not strangle them," Herschkowitz said. "Any gesture to the US and to Abbas won't work." Labor rebel MK Ophir Paz-Pines called the move "too little, too late." He said that had Netanyahu agreed to a settlement freeze before the summit with Abbas in New York, the summit might not have failed and negotiations could have begun then, but now it was unlikely that talks could begin even with the freeze. Defense officials, meanwhile, said that the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria would be given additional tools to enforce the freeze on settlement construction. In meetings held recently by Acting Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Amos Gilad, the possibility of hiring additional building inspectors for the civil administration was approved and is waiting for a final okay from Barak, expected in the coming weeks. Already in recent months, civil administration inspectors have been surveying and mapping out the settlements and illegal outposts in the West Bank to ensure that none of them are expanded once the construction freeze is imposed. Once the freeze goes into effect, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi will have to issue orders to all of the different regional councils instructing them to cease all construction. The Israel Police will also be called in to ensure that construction is not continued and to prevent the deployment of caravans in outposts or settlements. In recent meetings, Gilad recommended that Mizrachi issue orders removing radical settlers from the West Bank who have been involved in past illegal construction. Sanctions against regional council head who continue to permit construction are also under consideration. These steps had been outlined as suggested measures at a Defense Ministry meeting that took place on October 18. According to the document, a copy of which was obtained by The Jerusalem Post, there has been a lack of building enforcement in 94 settlements. The document also added that the civil administration had only 14 inspectors monitoring activity in the 120 West Bank settlements. It noted that while the Defense Ministry was taking measures to crack down on illegal construction in West Bank settlements, it advised deferring enforcement of evacuation orders against unauthorized outposts when cases against those fledgling hilltop communities are brought before the High Court of Justice. "We should advise the court that because of diplomatic constraints and negotiations with the Americans, we are asking not to evacuate outposts at this time," the document stated. Pinchas Wallerstein, the director of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said that settler leaders learned of the new measures only a few days ago from the media. He said of the Defense Ministry memo, "It's a scandalous letter and its author should be put in prison." Yaakov Katz and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.