Porush: Palestinians not opposed to non-ideological settlement growth

Tells 'Post' "Arabs understand the haredi community's need for cheap housing and the dynamics of natural growth,"

MK Meir Porush 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
MK Meir Porush 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Arabs may oppose ideologically motivated settlements beyond the Green Line, but they are not against haredi settlements like Betar Illit that are the result of natural growth and a desire for cheap housing, said MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) on Sunday. "Arabs understand the haredi community's need for cheap housing and the dynamics of natural growth," Porush said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "They just don't want Israelis to humiliate them. I believe if we built quietly without talking too much there would not be such strong Arab opposition." Porush made the comments at a time when Jewish settlement expansion in Judea and Samaria, including building which is a direct result of natural population growth, has become one of the most contentious issues from the Palestinians' perspective ahead of the Annapolis summit. Betar Illit, a town where Porush recently scored a major political victory after his personal choice for mayor trounced the incumbent, has an annual population growth of 10 percent, and a total population of about 35,000. Porush's victory in Betar has made him perhaps the second strongest Ashkenazi haredi politician after MK Ya'acov Litzman. The combined populations of the three largest haredi settlements, Modi'in Illit, located just over the Green Line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Kochav Ya'acov, just north of Jerusalem, and Betar Illit, 10 km. east of Jerusalem, make up over a quarter of the total population in the West Bank with about 75,000 residents. With the average haredi family numbering about five children, the population growth in these three settlements alone has pushed up the natural growth rate beyond the Green Line to more than twice the national average. "It is wrong to anger the Arabs," said Porush. "When I was in charge of the Housing Ministry, I knew how to do things quietly. But at the same time we have no choice but to expand to places like Betar. There is simply no other feasible option for young couples who grew up in Jerusalem." Commenting on the security fence, which includes the city of Betar inside its boundaries, Porush said that while he was aware that it angered the Palestinians, Israel had no other choice. "Are we to blame for their terrorism? We have an obligation as Jews to protect ourselves," he said. Porush rejected Palestinians' claims that they opposed the security fence because it cut them off from their sources of livelihood. "They see it as a land grab, as an attempt to expand Israel's borders." Porush served as deputy housing minister twice, first in 1995 and again in 2001. Ashkenazi haredi MKs traditionally do not accept the title of minister for political and religious reasons connected with their unwillingness to be identified with the secular Zionist establishment. However, they serve as deputies in ministries that have no serving minister. In general, haredi Ashkenazi MKs, who represent a constituency that, as a whole, does not serve in the IDF, refrain from commenting on security-related issues. However, Porush, in almost daily press releases, openly expresses decidedly right-wing views on diplomatic and military issues. In recent weeks, The Jerusalem Post has received notices from Porush on a variety of issues - from his opposition to a reduction of the number of security checkpoints in Judea and Samaria, to his opposition to the Annapolis summit, or his recommendation to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to move his office to the Western Wall as a gesture expressing Israel's unwillingness to divide Jerusalem. "Since the creation of Israel 60 years ago, Agudat Yisrael has historically expressed its opinion on a wide range of issues, including diplomacy and security," he said. Porush, a father of 12 who served in the army, rejected the notion that haredi MKs had no right to express their opinions on security issues. "The people I represent as an MK are affected just as much as any other segment of Israeli society by government policies on issues such as the reduction of security checkpoints in the territories. Why shouldn't I have the right to speak out? "The people who I represent want me to comment on these issues. But obviously the main reason I am in the Knesset is to protect and strengthen Torah institutions."