Panel formed to deal with construction legalities

Panel formed to deal wit

Fearing a wave of lawsuits, the Defense Ministry on Wednesday decided to establish a special committee to review cases filed by settlers who wish to continue building their homes despite the recent freeze the government has imposed on settlement construction in the West Bank. The committee will be chaired by Lt.-Col. Asher Cohen, who heads the Infrastructures Department in the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. Other members of the committee will be from the Justice Ministry and the IDF's Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria. Defense officials said that the committee would accept appeals from settlers who have received edicts ordering them to stop construction. In some cases, the officials said, the committee will have the authority to issue a permit allowing construction to proceed. "There are many different cases, some of them humanitarian," a senior defense official explained. "There could be a case of a family which sold its home already, bought a new plot of land in a settlement and was planning to build and now will be left without a place to live." In addition, the official said that there was concern that the freeze would not hold up in court with regard to certain specific cases of people who already received a building permit but have not yet finished laying the foundations. The official said that the Defense Ministry was in regular contact with Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to review the legality of the freeze on a case-by-case basis. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that the government planned to fully enforce the freeze. "There is no reason to doubt the government's sincerity, and it has already proven that it means what it says," Barak said. "Any hesitancy in implementing the cabinet's decision will cause Israel diplomatic damage." The freeze on construction, Barak said, was both in settlement blocs that Israel planned to retain under a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians, as well as in isolated settlements scattered throughout the West Bank.