In a Yediot op-ed Thursday (May 6 2010) defense analyst Alex Fishman warned that the “settlement freeze” was a ticking time bomb that would derail diplomatic negotiations come September. In a feature for the Friday Political Supplement of Yediot’s competition, Maariv, Shalom Yerushalmi provided plenty of evidence for the assertion (full text at bottom.)
Touring the West Bank with Israel’s Transportation Minister, MK Yisrael Katz (Likud), Yerushalmi noted that the settlers he met were surprisingly happy:
They will benefit twofold [from the freeze]. They will have completed the old and will begin the new, this time, with no restrictions. Moreover, during the freeze, exceptions committees were formed which gave permits to all who needed (and after all, everyone needed) and paid compensation to anyone who was hurt.
Is there a downside? No wonder that the large demonstrations that the settlers held last December opposite Netanyahu’s residence faded away. The protest tent opposite the Prime Minister’s Office was also dismantled with the same speed it was put up. At this rate, they will yet ask for another construction freeze period.
Katz then explained how this state of affairs was perfectly in line with Israeli government policy:
As far as Katz (55), a graduate of the Or Etzion high school yeshiva, is concerned, there is no problem or anything unusual going on. He believes in expanding the settlements, in connecting them to each other, in creating large blocs. At one of the observation points he went to, he promised to merge Karnei Shomron, Alonei Shilo, Yakir and the other settlements in the area into one large bloc numbering 30,000 settlers.
“The Jews will continue to live here forever and ever, even in a peace agreement, no settlement will be removed,” Katz said. “Those who want peace have to compromise over this area.”
And that Netanyahu, even Obama, were on board:
Q: Is Netanyahu pleased with what you’re doing here?
“Yes. We agreed that in every place where there are building starts, they will continue. Everything is being done openly. If people want to hold negotiations with us, they shouldn’t pose preconditions.”
Q: President Obama won’t like to hear your pronouncements.
“An American president was elected. He has a different agenda, but he still views Israel as an ally. He knows that we are the only anchor he can depend on in all his battles against Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. On who else can he rely? On Egypt? Does anyone know what will happen there after Mubarak?
On Saudi Arabia, where the terrorists came from who committed the terror attack on the World Trade Center? You need to have a lot of acumen in talking to the Americans, you need a lot of skill.
Netanyahu has not removed a single settlement, he will renew construction in September, he will not freeze construction in Jerusalem. I tell you that in the end, the argument will not be over Karnei Shomron or Immanuel, and not even over Jerusalem.”
No freeze here
Shalom Yerushalmi, Maariv Friday Political Supplement, May 7 2010 [Hebrew original here]
In a week in which indirect peace talks were supposed to get underway, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz went on a tour of Samaria and mainly displayed great proximity to the settlers. At the same opportunity, he stuck a finger in the Palestinians’ eyes.
“The construction momentum in Judea and Samaria is the same as when it was at its peak,” Katz announced happily to Likud activists in the settlement of Revava on Tuesday evening. “Thousands of housing units are being built everywhere. I never liked the freeze. Nobody in the security cabinet likes the freeze. It was a mistake.
You can’t take people and freeze them. That is no solution. The government will ensure that the construction momentum will resume this September. In any case, I know that as far as I am concerned, there is no freeze.”Katz toured the settlements for an entire day to observe the great construction boom already taking place on the ground, precisely at a time that the state is trying to show the world that it is limiting construction.
The freeze, it turns out, was simply an opportunity to unfreeze land and prepare it for construction. The government froze new houses but allowed the settlers to complete houses for which the foundations had been laid. The result on the ground is unimaginable. Thousands of settlers rushed to work on what they had begun, before any new edicts could arrive.
“The rabbis told us not to stop work. To continue to bang with the hammers, even on Yom Kippur,” relates Avi Cohen from Har Bracha, the chairman of the Likud branch in Samaria.
The freeze will end this September. Avi Cohen and his buddies will begin to build foundations. They will benefit twofold. They will have completed the old and will begin the new, this time, with no restrictions.
Moreover, during the freeze, exceptions committees were formed which gave permits to all who needed (and after all, everyone needed) and paid compensation to anyone who was hurt. Is there a downside? No wonder that the large demonstrations that the settlers held last December opposite Netanyahu’s residence faded away.
The protest tent opposite the Prime Minister’s Office was also dismantled with the same speed it was put up. At this rate, they will yet ask for another construction freeze period.
Everyone in Samaria is smiling. Sometimes openly, sometimes with a wink, usually with satisfaction. Even the claims, perhaps justified, about buildings that had become stuck in the middle, about money that had been lost, about unsuitable trailers in which entire families were crowded, about young couples who could find no place to live, bumpy access roads and all the rest—become lost in the face of this expansion enterprise, which appears to have no end.
Minister Katz himself inaugurates roads there costing tens of millions of shekels as if there were no tomorrow, he renovates access roads and builds traffic circles in the style that he appears to have inherited from Ariel Sharon, with whom he worked for a long time in the 1980s.
The percentages always work in the settlers’ favor. On Monday, for example, building inspectors arrived at a Shavei Shomron neighborhood along with directors of the Civil Administration, and demolished six illegal temporary structures. Samaria Regional Council Chairman Gershon Mesika was quick to accuse Defense Minister Ehud Barak, “who wants to show the people in his party that he is doing something.”
Barak is the man the settlers hate most at this time, as the person still poking a stick in the wheels of the trucks bringing the trailers, and here and there, stopping construction. “For me, he is a minister in the Palestinian Authority,” one settler woman from Revava told Katz.
In the afternoon, Katz went to Kedumim. Offsetting the six buildings destroyed in Shave Shomron, it immediately turned out that settlement secretary, Hananel Durani, is about to establish a new neighborhood in the coming days, all legal and aboveboard.
Durani, a deputy brigade commander in reserves, welcomed Katz in a eucalyptus grove at the entrance to Kedumim, hung a large map of the settlement on one of the trees and lectured to his guest military style, as if about to leave for a navigation exercise.
“We will build another 400 housing units in Kedumim,” he promised. “In a month, I’ll be bringing in the machines and building the northern neighborhood.”
“How many units,” Katz asked.
“56,” replied Durani,
“Are there foundations?”
“Did the defense minister sign?”
“Very good, forward.”
He believes in expansion