Shas MKs mum on support for illegal outposts

MK Yitzhak Cohen to settlers: "If you are diligent in your Torah study you will all be protected."

yitzhak cohen 298 88 (photo credit: The Knesset)
yitzhak cohen 298 88
(photo credit: The Knesset)
Shas parliamentarians were sympathetic but noncommittal Tuesday as to whether they would support or oppose the dismantling of illegal outposts, during a fact-finding tour of Migron, an outpost near Beit El slated for evacuation, and other settlements. Wearing stylish three-button black suits, soft leather shoes, white dress shirts and ties, MKs Yitzhak Cohen and Nissim Ze'ev and their entourage hiked the dirt roads and gravelly hills of Migron examining the two permanent houses, 40 prefabs and the building site of the settlement's new mikve (ritual bath). MK Uri Ariel (National Union) arranged the tour in an attempt to influence Shas to oppose the dismantling of outposts. "There is nothing like seeing with your own eyes," said Ariel. Cohen, a member of a special six-member ministerial committee tasked with examining the issue of illegal outposts, refrained from voicing a clear statement either for or against the outposts. "We have no one to rely on but God in heaven," Cohen told a small group of Migron settlers during a lunch in his honor. "If you are diligent in your Torah study you will all be protected." Cohen said he was collecting data for the committee and for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas's spiritual leader. Yosef will make the decision regarding Shas's support for, or opposition to, the dismantling of two dozen illegal outposts. Ahead of the Gaza pullout last summer, Yosef issued a halachic decision in which he opposed the unilateral aspect of the disengagement plan. Yosef supports territorial concessions only when they are made within the framework of a peace agreement. In the recent Knesset elections Shas garnered settler support by highlighting the fact that it was the only religious party that remained in the opposition during all stages of disengagement. However, the reasons for Shas's unwillingness or inability to join the government coalition were primarily economic, not political. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post before the elections, Shas chairman Eli Yishai said that the ideal of a Greater Israel was "anachronistic" and that it was "unrealistic" to believe that we would be able to hold on to all of the settlements. One of the high-ranking Shas representatives who toured Migron and preferred to remain anonymous told the Post that Shas would probably support the evacuation of a small number of outposts. "It would be minimally traumatic and it would also prove to the world that we are doing something about the illegal outposts," the representative said. Ariel said he hoped Shas would not lend a hand to the uprooting of mikvaot, synagogues and yeshivot. "I doubt Shas wants a rerun of the pictures of destruction we saw in Gaza or the violence we were witness to in Amona." Cohen said that he would investigate apparent inaccuracies in the Sasson report on illegal outposts, questions that were brought to his attention during his visit. The Sasson Report, published on March 8, 2005 by former head of the State Prosecution Criminal Department Talia Sasson, was commissioned by former prime minister Ariel Sharon to investigate illegal Jewish building in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Sasson discovered about 100 illegal outposts, 24 built after March 2001 when Sharon promised US President George Bush that building would be halted. All 24 of these outposts are slated for evacuation and destruction. However, Rafi Ben-Bassat, vice chairman of the Binyamin Regional Council, presented Cohen with the names of six settlements which he claims were established before March 2001, and are nevertheless slated for destruction. These settlements are The Red House near Shiloh, Harasha, Plot 42 (adjacent to Ofra), the Irana Kubus Compound near Jericho, Migron, Meromei Eilon near Modi'in, and the Eli settlement's Yovel Neighborhood. Ben-Bassat also claimed that other "illegal outposts" near Adam, Eli and Ofra are actually additions to existing neighborhoods. "I plan to get to the bottom of these contradictions," said Cohen, who holds the religious affairs portfolio. Still, implementation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's realignment plan would make the argument over which outposts should be considered illegal irrelevant. Even settlements presently considered legal would be evacuated and dismantled to create permanent borders.