Settlement debate reaches Knesset

Settlement debate reache

Although Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu worked last week to prevent a Knesset debate on his newly-declared building freeze in the West Bank, the topic reached the parliament for debate Monday through indirect routes. The National Union threw punch after punch at the plan's proponents, while opposition leader Kadima found itself squeezed between Netanyahu and a hard place regarding support for the moratorium. Kadima MKs - except for Gideon Ezra - all abstained from voting for or against the government during the plenum vote on the National Union's no-confidence motion Monday afternoon. Labor MKs attacked Kadima's abstention, calling it "infantile behavior by a spineless party." Labor officials called upon Kadima to decide whether they were for or against freezing settlement construction. Kadima has long promised that when they agree with the prime minister's policies, they will be a "responsible" opposition, but despite the party's ostensible support for the settlement freeze, they did not support the government in opposing the National Union's motion. The motion successfully worked around the coalition's power to prevent a plenum debate on Netanyahu's controversial initiative, and the resulting debate turned into a mudslinging fight. MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) was thrown out of the plenum after repeatedly interrupting speeches in support of the freeze by Minister-Without-Portfolio Benny Begin (Likud) and MK Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor). Begin described the decision to temporarily freeze building for ten months as "painful, but correct." He repeated arguments he aired last week shortly after the freeze was announced, claiming that at the conclusion of the ten-month period "we will build on the basis of our basic and historical right in our land, including Judea and Samaria, and will resume building faster and more than before." Earlier Monday, the freeze was the subject of a hearing in the Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee, where a war of words broke out between MK Uri Ariel (National Union) and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's settlements adviser, Eitan Broshi. Ariel accused Barak of making a "racist decision" that "unjustly discriminates against settlers." The hearing, which was scheduled before Netanyahu's Wednesday announcement, was meant to deal exclusively with the subject of building industrial zones in the West Bank. Broshi said the entire hearing was rendered irrelevant due to the settlement freeze, and that any requests regarding additional building should be addressed to the committee charged with reviewing exceptional cases. Broshi did not, however, answer Ariel's ensuing question as to whether or not "Barak had already made sure to set up the committee as soon as he found the 40 additional inspectors to enforce the freeze." Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.