Panel to ‘reconsider’ Barzilai decision

Kadima on Netanyahu’s move: Origami prime minister has folded again.

barzilai hospital ashkelon 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
barzilai hospital ashkelon 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In a move seen as caving in to public pressure, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday instructed his director-general, Eyal Gabai, to head a task force that would reevaluate Sunday’s cabinet decision to relocate the proposed reinforced emergency room for Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center.
The cabinet had approved by a narrow margin Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman’s proposal to build the emergency room at a more distant site because ancient bones were found at the original site. Critics say that revising the plans would cost an extra NIS 136 million, delay the project for two years and put the facility too far from the hospital’s main building.
Netanyahu made the decision after meeting with close aides following his arrival in Washington. After he was briefed about the public outcry, he called Litzman and said the decision had to be changed.
“The new task force will determine, together with all the relevant authorities, the possibility of erecting the secure emergency room at Barzilai Hospital in a way in which lives will not be endangered,” a Prime Minister’s Office press release said. “The task force’s conclusions will be presented immediately after Pessah. Until then there will not be any work done on the facility.”
Sources close to Netanyahu rejected allegations that he had given in to public pressure. They noted that Sunday’s decision had already set a month’s time during which building the emergency room at the original site could be reconsidered based on investigations currently taking place regarding the nature of the graves.
“There is no surrender here,” a source close to Netanyahu said. “This is merely following up on the cabinet decision with a plan of action.”
Litzman’s office responded that he would wait for the results of Gabai’s task force before deciding how to react to Netanyahu’s decision. He had threatened to quit if the site of the proposed emergency room was not moved.
Israel Antiquities Authority chairman Shuka Dorfman will meet in the coming days with the haredi groups that initially claimed that the bones found in the site were Jewish and thus could not be moved according to halacha.
The chief rabbis and others have noted that many bones, including those in Gush Katif, have been moved before without haredi opposition, especially for life-and-death matters and even when not of critical importance.
Dorfman’s staff had declared that based on evidence they found at the site that the bones were those of pagans or early Christians.
Eleven ministers voted in favor of the decision on Sunday; 10 voted against, two abstained, and six ministers did not vote. Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, a native of Ashkelon, missed the vote for family reasons. He sent a letter to Netanyahu on Monday saying that he would have voted against the decision and asking him for a revote.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who voted against the shift with other Labor ministers, also called for a revote. He praised Netanyahu for apparently changing his mind.
“It is good that the prime minister opened the door to rethinking this mistake,” Barak said.
Even haredi politicians had complained about the decision. One warned that the public outcry could lead to the resuscitation of the secularist Shinui party. Journalist Yair Lapid, son of the late Shinui leader Yosef Lapid, wrote a column slamming the decision that was printed on the cover of the largest circulation Hebrew newspaper, Yediot Aharonot.
Kadima and Meretz have submitted the necessary signatures to force a special meeting of the Knesset during the spring recess to debate the cabinet decision. The meeting will be held Wednesday, when the Knesset’s State Control Committee will also debate the decision.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni called Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin from Washington on Monday promising to fight against the decision.
A Kadima spokesman slammed Netanyahu for reconsidering.
“Netanyahu has folded so many times he has become origami,” thespokesman said. “His failed management and the way he gives in topressure must worry every citizen of Israel. It was once again proventhat the man who runs the country makes fateful decisions withoutthinking and changes them at the same speed to ensure his own politicalsurvival. Kadima will continue fighting until this twisted decision iscompletely overturned.”