Gov't to build 23 W.Bank classrooms

Netanyahu paves way to end classroom crisis among Jewish students.

Construction in Har Homa 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Construction in Har Homa 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hours after MKs threatened to turn their Knesset office into an impromptu schoolroom Sunday, a top-level government meeting paved the way for 23 modular structures to solve the anticipated classroom crisis among Jewish students in West Bank schools.
Less than one month before the beginning of the school year, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was called in to coordinate among the Defense Ministry, Justice Ministry and the Education Ministry to solve what was about to become a crisis, with as many as 1,000 settler students left without classrooms.
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The move to add 23 modular classrooms to West Bank settlements comes on the eve of an expected breakthrough in the peace process, which could bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table for the first time in over a year-and-a-half.
In advance of those talks, Netanyahu is under pressure to extend the 10- month moratorium on new settlement construction, which expires on September 26. Educational institutions are exempt from the moratorium, which otherwise prohibits even new modular construction in West Bank Jewish communities.
In a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee earlier Sunday, Justice Ministry representatives said that they had not permitted 23 modular structures to be placed at school sites because they believed that they violated planning laws.
In addition, the representatives claimed that they still needed the Defense Ministry to sign off on approval documents. The Education Ministry, however, had already approved the placement of the classrooms, after officially recognizing the need for them around six months ago.
After the ministries all gathered around the prime minister’s table, Netanyahu reportedly instructed Defense Minister Ehud Barak to order the civil administration to approve the placement of the structures in Eli, Ofra, Eilon Moreh, Itamar, Talmon-Neriya, Adam, Emmanuel and Efrat.
During the Education Committee meeting, frustrated National Union MKs Michael Ben-Ari and Arye Eldad threatened to offer their faction’s Knesset offices for the students’ use and to offer personal instruction in tents placed outside of the Knesset if no solution was found by the beginning of the school year, set to start in September.
“After holding five separate meetings on this subject, the committee demanded that the decision come at the highest levels,” said Committee Chairman MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi).
“I am happy that intelligence won out and our request not to hold political debates at our student’s expense was respected. It is unfortunate, however, that it demanded waiting till the last minute – so late, in fact, that it is not yet clear that the classrooms will all be in place by the opening of the school year.”
The Knesset Lobby for the Land of Israel was quick to congratulate the prime minister’s move.
“We congratulate the prime minister for his personal involvement to solve the problem and we are happy that intelligence triumphed over bureaucracy and that now the students of Judea and Samaria will be able to learn under the same conditions to which the rest of Israel’s students are entitled,” said the lobby’s chairs – Eldad and coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) – in a statement.
“In the same spirit, a solution also must be found for the preschoolers of Hebron,” they said.
The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip said that the issue of the classrooms had been held up for political reasons and not legal ones. It’s a shame that the government had to wait until two weeks before the school year started before it stopped playing politics on the backs of school children, the council said.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.