Settlers vow to defy crackdown on West Bank construction 29Nov09 November 30, 2009

by Barak Ravid  38498-  Haaretz -  29 November 2009

Israeli settlers vowed on Sunday to defy a government crackdown on West Bank construction by laying cornerstones in communities across the territory.

The announcement came just hours after Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered his ministry to urgently recruit and train construction supervisors to oversee the 10-month construction freeze in West Bank settlements, decreed by the cabinet last week.

Yishai Hollander, a spokesman for the settlers council, told The Associated Press there would be festive cornerstone ceremonies for new neighborhoods in multiple settlements in the next few days.


Meanwhile, the Yediot Ahronot daily reported that a councilman in the settlement of Ariel ripped up the order in front of military officials and said he would not accept it.

But with the beefed-up inspection effort, it appears unlikely the settlers will be able to do any substantial new construction in the coming months.

Fourteen construction supervisors are currently operating in the West Bank. Within two weeks, 40 new supervisors will be trained to begin working in the region and dozens more will be recruited down the line to enforce the construction freeze.

The Israel Police, the Border Police and the Civil Administration will all participate in the enforcement of the freeze alongside the supervisors, under the authority of the Israel Defense Forces.

During the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom voiced his objection to the freeze, saying that it was “an unnecessary decision, which won’t result in the relaunch of peace talks, and like [Netanyahu's] Bar Ilan speech will only serve to stiffen the Palestinian stance and solicit further demands from Israel.”

Shalom was not present at the cabinet meeting at which the freeze was approved as he was in London on business. He said that he didn’t know that the issue would be raised during the meeting that he had missed. “I don’t think they tricked me. It was a legitimate decision, approved by a vote. However, I am against it.”

He added that the Likud party has always supported settlements and therefore “a shift in ideology must be made through public discourse within the proper Likud institutions, and not the way it was done.”

The Likud ministers convened ahead of the cabinet meeting to raise their objection to the settlement freeze. At the meeting, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan called the order to halt construction a “violation of human rights,” and Information and Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein urged Netanyahu to meet with settler leaders as soon as possible and make sure that those harmed by the freeze are compensated. The prime minister asked cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser to schedule a meeting with settler leaders as soon as he returns from his trip to Germany, for which he leaves on Monday.

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