PM to face opposition on outposts

At weekly meeting, ministers stress that the settlers have a strong lobby in the cabinet.

maoz esther outpost 248 88 ap (photo credit: )
maoz esther outpost 248 88 ap
(photo credit: )
A week after US President Barack Obama tried to pressure Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to freeze settlement construction, ministers on the Right countered with their own pressure against removing even unauthorized outposts. The cabinet did not vote on the issue at its weekly meeting on Sunday, and it remained unclear whether Netanyahu had enough support to pass a decision to remove all the illegal outposts without first reaching a compromise with the settlers. In the cabinet session and the Likud ministerial meeting prior to it, ministers competed with passionate arguments against removing outposts at this juncture. Despite the National Union's absence from the coalition, the ministers made clear that the settlers had a strong lobby in the cabinet. The heads of Israel Beiteinu, Shas and Habayit Hayehudi each tried to take upon themselves the mantle of the settlers' top advocate, as did Likud ministers Yuli Edelstein, Yisrael Katz and Bennie Begin. But even the two ministers who live in the West Bank, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Nokdim) and Edelstein (Alon Shvut), support removing certain outposts under the proper conditions and timing. Both Lieberman and Edelstein criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak for initiating the removal of outposts without government approval or proper dialogue with the settlers. Edelstein said Barak had not internalized that a nationalist government had taken over. "Some of what they call outposts are neighborhoods of existing settlements and should be sanctioned, but we should tell people in certain outposts politely and firmly that no one gave them the authority to live in what will never be an authorized settlement and therefore they'd better move," Edelstein said. Perhaps the most fiery defense of the outposts came from Katz, who said that "the government's agenda cannot become a witch hunt against the residents of Judea and Samaria." Spokesmen for both Shas chairman Eli Yishai and Habayit Hayehudi head Daniel Herschkowitz vowed they would "lead struggles" against removing outposts and freezing construction for natural growth in existing settlements. "Freezing settlements is tantamount to exile," Yishai said. Herschkowitz's spokesman said that as the leader of the coalition's most right-wing party, he intended to stand for his principles. It would violate the coalition agreement with Habayit Hayehudi if natural growth is frozen, he said. When asked who would be the settlers' top advocate, Edelstein replied that an entire team of ministers would insist on keeping Barak in check and ensuring that the cabinet would have the final say on the outposts' fate.