Kadima doesn't back settlement freeze

Giving in to Obama's demands would "tear the party apart," MK Otniel Schneller says.

otniel schneller 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
otniel schneller 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Although Kadima has presented itself as the party that is prepared to heal the increasingly troubled US-Israel relationship, the Obama administration could find itself unpleasantly surprised by some of the less-than-Obama-esque stances of Kadima MKs, including a number who flatly refuse to consider freezing natural growth-based expansion in settlements. Although some in Washington view party chairwoman Tzipi Livni as a more comfortable negotiating partner, a Kadima lawmaker said this week that acceding to Obama's demands to freeze building in all settlements would lead to the break-up of the party. "Kadima will never accept the demand for an end to natural growth," MK Otniel Schneller said on Tuesday. "Kadima cannot accept it because it would cause a split and tear the party apart." The former secretary-general of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip and current resident of the Ma'aleh Michmash settlement said Israel must be "allowed to develop in the recognized settlement blocs. They have practically already been agreed-upon and so there is no reason to freeze building. The denial of natural growth is not legitimate, not moral, and is anti-Jewish. Nobody can tell my daughters not to have children just because they happen to live in settlements." MK Ze'ev Boim echoed Schneller's comments, reiterating that he supported continuing building for natural growth within the municipal boundaries of settlements that were part of major blocs. The two are far from alone, and reflect a strong - if not necessarily majority - trend within the leading opposition party. Even legislators who see themselves on the left-wing of the centrist party are reluctant to agree to a complete freeze on all settlement growth. Although MK Shlomo Molla said that he is "completely in favor of Obama's plans," he emphasized that "Kadima supports the major settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim." Molla said he was certain that a final-status agreement would involve a land swap through which those three blocs remained in Israel in exchange for territory in a place like the Halutza Dunes in the Negev. Molla argued that it was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's "backward" policy that was "dragging Israel into a situation in which we will ultimately not be allowed to build in the blocs. Bibi is weakening the blocs," he said, arguing that under the Olmert administration, building in the settlement blocs continued with the consent of the Bush administration. Even Schneller, representing the right-wing of Kadima, said he understood that "Israel must arrive at a deep territorial compromise," adding that "I therefore agree in principle with the demand for not building additional settlements. We will not encourage population growth - we will freeze development of settlements that are not in blocs, and because we stand by our word, we will take down outposts. But only as long as we will be allowed to develop in the agreed-upon blocs." On the subject of Jerusalem, the party has a general consensus that the "holy basin" around the Old City must remain in Israeli hands, but there is a range of views - from "I can never accept returning Jerusalem" to "distant neighborhoods such as Aram, Kfar Aket, Hizme, Anata, Abu Dis, Jebl Mukaber will be the basis for al-Quds as the Palestinian capital." There is, however, practically unanimous support among the Kadima MKs for "two states for two peoples," a sticking point between Netanyahu and Obama. "There is no other solution," explained Molla. Many lawmakers, including MK Robert Tibayev, Ya'acov Edri and Schneller, emphasized that they had arrived at the conclusion that two states were the only solution after years of identification with the Right. "There is no other choice if we want Israel to remain a Jewish state," Tibayev said. During Monday's Kadima faction meeting, Livni - apparently aware of the foreign policy discussion within her own party - gave MKs a closed-door briefing on the history of recent peace accords, explaining the significance of Annapolis and characterizing the road map as a plan that offered little chance of making progress, while providing excuses of Palestinian noncompliance to explain Israeli reluctance to proceed. And so despite the facade of party unity behind Obama's foreign policy, the message was clear when one senior MK told The Jerusalem Post - less than an hour after the faction meeting - that he fully supported the road map and advancing pending Palestinian compliance.