Land of Israel Lobby aims to force Netanyahu to issue new building permits.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could impose a new settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria, Habayit Hayehudi MK Zevulun Orlev told the Land of Israel Lobby group in the Knesset on Tuesday.“There is a threat of a new freeze, and those who think this threat has been removed are mistaken,” Orlev said.MKs and settler leaders had gathered to call on Netanyahu to break the silent freeze that exists in West Bank Jewish communities, particularly in the larger ones.Although new construction has resumed in the larger settlements in the last month, according to the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, many of those communities are almost out of building permits, and building there will soon come to a complete halt.Peace Now, which monitors settlement construction, reported at the start of September that 14 out of the largest 19 settlements would soon be out of construction permits.Parliamentarians and settlers on Tuesday struggled to find a common battle plan to force Netanyahu to issue new permits – a gesture they say the prime minister had pledged to make.“A government that is not building in Judea and Samaria has given up on Judea and Samaria,” warned MK Arye Eldad (National Union).Specifically the council has demanded that both the Housing and Construction Ministry and the Defense Ministry immediately approve tenders for 4,321 new units in nine West Bank settlements.These plans, the council said, are complete and can be executed immediately with the proper authorization.But Orlev warned that this question of a silent freeze remained secondary to the looming threat of a new moratorium to replace the 10-month freeze on new settlement construction that expired on September 26th.Efrat Council head Oded Revivi, whose community is among those that are largely frozen, urged the lobby groups to create a broad coalition of parliamentarians from the Left and Right to support new construction in West Bank areas that are likely to remain part of Israel under any final status agreement with the Palestinians.He warned the lobby not to spread its efforts too thinly, but to concentrate on an argument that had the largest appeal.“A call should be issued from all the political parties to continue building in the settlement blocs,” he said.However, MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) argued that the endangered area of strongest consensus was east Jerusalem. He urged the lobby group to battle first to normalize construction in that section of the city, which Palestinians claim will be part of their future state.According to Peace Now, the Housing and Construction Ministry has issued 813 tenders for new construction in east Jerusalem since March of last year.But settlers and right-wing parliamentarians have argued that building and planning in east Jerusalem is largely frozen.Rotem’s words upset Eldad, who wanted to know why the battle line was not the entire West Bank.“Are you saying a freeze in Judea and Samaria is acceptable?” he asked.“No, but you have to [combat it] differently. You can’t put it in the center without a debate,” Rotem said.Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely called on Netanyahu to strip Defense Minister Ehud Barak of the ability to authorize Jewish construction in the West Bank.Orlev added that the best strategy was to recreate the ministerial committee for settlements and move the approval process to that committee.Other MKs said that lobby efforts had to continue with ministers, particularly in advance of Netanyahu’s trip to the US next week.“The prime minister only understands the language of political power, and your job is to see how to impose that power,” said South Hebron Hills Regional Council head Tzivka Bar-Hai.
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