W. Bank leaders apprehensive ahead of Netanyahu's meeting with special envoy Mitchell in 2 weeks.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Settlers leaders on Wednesday promised to lobby against any concessions that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might consider making to the Americans on the issue of settlement construction, when he meets with US Mideast envoy George Mitchell in the next few weeks.
"We have two weeks to work with," said Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. He added that the council was seeking a meeting with Netanyahu.
He warned that by formally imposing a construction freeze on any Jewish area of the West Bank, Israel would be making a statement regarding the tenuous status of that area.
"If every part of Judea and Samaria was frozen, it would mean that in a final status [agreement] it would not be part of Israel. [In effect], Israel would have created a Palestinian state even before the negotiations have started," Dayan said.
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein, a member of the Likud, said that if Netanyahu did not start supporting settlement construction by approving new building permits, something that has not happened since November, he would find opposition within his own party. In the Knesset plenum, he said, MKs would form voting blocs against Netanyahu.
Likud MK Danny Dannon said there was a lot of pressure on the prime minister, both from within his own party and in the wider coalition, including Israel Beiteinu and Shas, to authorize building permits in the settlements.
"In the next two weeks Netanyahu has to decide what path he wants to take," Dannon said.
He warned that if the prime minister stopped construction and continued to freeze permits, he would find himself in hot water within his own coalition.
They spoke with The Jerusalem Post as Defense Minister Ehud Barak traveled back to Israel from New York, where he met with Mitchell to discuss the peace process and the American demand that Israel freeze all settlement activity as part of that process.
As he traveled, Israel Radio broadcast an interview with Barak in which he said, "It is true that there has been an expectation created that everything will stop, on the other hand, Netanyahu is not far from that."
"The prime minister said specifically in his speech [at Bar-Ilan University on June 14] that we are not going to create new settlements, we will not begin new projects such as a new neighborhood," nor will Israel expropriate land for new construction, Barak said.
"What is left here is the question of what to do with the buildings that are under construction," he said.
He said Israel was close to an understanding with the US on settlements that he stressed was part of a regional comprehensive peace effort.
"We focused mainly on the need for a comprehensive regional agreement," Barak told Israel Radio. "That includes other Arab states which have something to give to Israel, not just to take."
The comprehensive effort would also include strengthening Palestinian institutions, and the settlement issue, while being "very important," had to be "taken into proportion," he said.
So much focus was being drawn to the issue of settlements that they were gaining a symbolic significance, Barak said.
In some portions of the interview he struck a more conciliatory tone toward the settlers.
America, he said, understood that it could not stop Israel from building a kindergarten in an area where one was needed.
Most of the construction within settlements in Judea and Samaria was happening in the larger cities of Modi'in Illit, Betar Illit and Ma'aleh Adumim, which offered people affordable housing, he said.
Rebel lawmakers in Barak's Labor Party attacked him for going too far to the Right in his meeting with Mitchell.
MK Eitan Cabel, who opposed Labor joining Netanyahu's government, said there unfortunately was no difference in ideology between Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Israel Beiteinu.
Cabel said he was leaning toward forcing a meeting of Labor's executive committee to protest his party chairman's behavior. In a strongly-worded letter to Barak, Cabel accused him of defending the settlers in New York and said this was not the job of the leader of the Labor Party.
"I was shocked to see in the newspapers that a man who has a job previously occupied by leaders of the peace camp has become the national whitewasher of the settlements that we in Labor have always considered an obstacle to peace," Cabel wrote. "You have become the representative of the government's rejectionist policies to the nations of the world and the most enthusiastic PR flack of the settlers."
Cabel also slammed Barak for not dismantling outposts, for building homes in settlements for residents of outposts, and for trying to trick the international community into sanctioning West Bank building under the guise of natural growth.
"Is this what you meant when you said you wanted Labor to have influence from inside the government?" Cabel asked Barak in the letter. "Each day I am more convinced that the Labor convention's decision to join Netanyahu and Lieberman's right-wing, extremist government was one of Labor's darkest hours. A party that lacks ideology and that implements policies foreign to it may have no right to exist."
But Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika had no problem placing Barak on the left.
He said Barak spoke as if the right wing had not won the election, and he called on Netanyahu to "put him in his place."
Goldstein added, "It is strange what is happening here. Netanyahu is throwing the ball to Barak and Barak is throwing it to Netanyahu."
This is the only place in the world where people talk freely about freezing development, Mesika said. "We have to remind ourselves that settlers also have human rights."
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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