Settler leaders threaten to ignore building ban

Settler leaders to ignor

west bank construction settlement 248  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
west bank construction settlement 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Settler leaders threatened on Monday to ban civil administration inspectors from their communities as they prepared to tell Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a face-to-face meeting this week that they will ignore his 10-month moratorium on new construction in their communities. The moratorium is "illegitimate, immoral, inhuman and anti-Zionist," the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (the Yesha Council) declared Monday afternoon, as it held its third emergency session in less than one week. An official from the Prime Minister's Office refused to respond to that statement. "We don't want to get into that kind of discussion," he said. He added that these are the types of issues that would be discussed at the meeting, which will be the first time that Netanyahu has met with the settler leadership since he took office on March 31. The purpose of the meeting, the official said, was for Netanyahu to hear the concerns, complaints and frustrations of the settlement leaders with respect to the moratorium. He is expected to explain his decision to freeze all new settlement projects that have not yet broken ground. Netanyahu, however, had agreed that settlers can complete 3,000 housing units whose construction had already begun. "I think the prime minister will tell them why he took the step, and why he feels it is important for the country," the official said. The official said it was not yet clear whether the meeting, originally scheduled for Tuesday, would go ahead despite Netanyahu's viral infection, which forced him to postpone a trip on Monday with six cabinet ministers to Berlin. But he added that the meeting would take place some time this week. The decision to engage with the leadership of the settlement community, the official said, was taken before Sunday's cabinet meeting. The official said Netanyahu would articulate "the high regard in which he holds the settlement community." Karnei Shomron Council head Herzl Ben-Arie said he intended to boycott the meeting. "There is no point is speaking with someone who plans to place a second Hamas state in Judea and Samaria," he said. He added that Netanyahu should have met with them before announcing the moratorium, which the security cabinet voted on last Wednesday. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday the IDF immediately handed out copies of the new orders to the 24 regional and local council heads in Judea and Samaria. In tandem, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he planned to hire 40 more building inspectors to help out the 14 who already work for the civil administration. A number of settler leaders tore up the orders, which, among other things, stripped them of their power to issue construction permits and ordered them to enforce the new regulations. Still, they did not stop civil administration inspectors from visiting 30 settlements on Monday, including Elkana, Beit El, Tekoa, Modi'in Illit, Ariel and Kedar. During their visits, the inspectors issued 50 stop-work orders at sites where they felt the foundations were not yet properly set, and construction could therefore, they said, be stopped under the new edict. Since ground had definitely been broken at these sites, it was not clear how these orders corresponded with the earlier definition of the moratorium. Four bulldozers and tractors, as well as building material, were also confiscated. The civil administration said it hoped to finish visiting all the settlements and illegal outposts in the West Bank this week. The inspectors are accompanied by security forces and are authorized to confiscate construction equipment, including bulldozers and heavy machinery, if they encounter a violation of the construction freeze. "We are prepared to take action if needed and confiscate building materials and machinery if our orders are not heeded," one official said. In Tekoa, the inspectors were accosted by a group of right-wing activists. Officials said the incident ended without violence. Netanyahu, according to media reports, called Barak to ask that civil administration inspectors allow construction workers in the settlement of Kedar to continue building 25 housing units. Netanyahu had approved the construction of the housing units and they were not meant to be included in the moratorium, he reportedly said. In Ariel and Elkana, settler leaders said the civil administration issued stop-work orders on projects that had already been permitted. Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman said the project they stopped in Ariel had been approved under former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Now the contractor has to come for a meeting next week, so the civil administration can determine if the project is still valid, even though he has all the necessary permits, said Nachman. A longtime member of the Likud Party, Nachman said Monday that he felt as if he had been turned into a criminal by the very government he had supported. Settler leaders agreed on Tuesday not to cooperate on any level with the civil administration, and have instructed their staff, including their engineers, to follow suit. They also have refused to attend a meeting Tuesday with the civil administration, in which IDF officials had intended to explain the new edict. Settler leaders did meet Monday with Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Attias and explained to him that they planned to ignore the edict. "No defeatist governmental decision will stop us from building," they told him.