Minister: No one dreams of giving up Gush Etzion

Ben-Eliezer: There is consensus between Right, Left on the issue; "Hamas learned lesson from IDF ops."

ben eliezer 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ben eliezer 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In a strong show of support for the settlements in Gush Etzion, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) promised local leaders Tuesday that their region will remain in Israeli hands when a final-status agreement is concluded with the Palestinians. "No one is dreaming of making concessions with respect to Gush Etzion in any future agreement," Ben-Eliezer said after touring the Herodian archeological site, where King Herod was buried 2,000 years ago. Ben-Eliezer brushed aside questions about the failure of the international community to recognize Israel's claim to the land and the Palestinians' intention to make it part of a future state. "Within the nation that I live in, there are some places around which there is wide consensus between the Right and the Left. I do not think that any one disagrees about Gush Etzion," the minister said during his visit to the area. He put his feelings into words as he signed the Herodian guest book. As he leaned over the makeshift table set up for him in the parking lot, he wrote that the site was a testament to "our history and our right to fight for a Jewish state." Ben-Eliezer added that Hamas learned a lesson from the IDF's recent activity and that there is "no doubt that the relative calm is a direct result of recent [IDF] operations in the Gaza Strip. We have an interest in the quiet and in neither of the two sides taking any action. Even so, we are monitoring the amount of Kassams and the amount of arms that are being smuggled through the tunnels." "If it becomes clear to Israel that Hamas is exploiting the relative calm to build up its strength, no one can expect us to sit in silence and not react," he said. Ben-Eliezer said he was determined to provide utilities such as water, sewerage and electricity to those living in West Bank settlements, including in Gush Etzion. But he balked at promising to provide Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein an NIS 20 million grant to bring the sewage system up to environmental standards. "I can provide better loan terms, but I can't give you a grant," Ben-Eliezer told Goldstein as the two sat down to a quick brunch at the Sadeh Bar goat farm for teens at risk. Goldstein told him that he was between a rock and a hard place when it came to the sewage system. If he failed to improve it, he said, he risked fines, and in light of the construction freeze in the area, he could not increase his tax revenues to cover a loan. Still, Goldstein later told The Jerusalem Post, he was pleased with Ben-Eliezer's visit, which comes at a time of increased communication between settlers and the government. "He [Ben-Eliezer] is very supportive and very nice. He is very human. He is not cold and arrogant," Goldstein said. Goldstein said that in a private conversation, Ben-Eliezer promised to speak with both Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about authorizing construction in Gush Etzion. In the past few weeks there has been talk about pending approval of a number of small projects in the area, but Goldstein said he had not received any official notifications that would allow him to build. Ben-Eliezer refused to comment on the issue to the Post. "I imagine the issue will come before the cabinet, and I will respond to it then," he said.