Israel cabinet approves committee to oversee West Bank settlement construction 18Jun12 June 18, 2012

Haaretz  -  17 June 2012

The government approved the establishment of a ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning to deal with issues relating to settlement construction.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who gives the final say on all matters relating to settlement construction, voted against the decision, despite the fact that the wording of the decision clearly stated that his authority would not be affected. Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz also voted against the decision, along with several other ministers.

The establishment of the committee was one of the steps announced by Netanyahu to garner the support of right-wing ministers to vote against a bill aimed at regulating West Bank outposts. Netanyahu presented the option as a response to the ministers who sought to transfer the decision-making process over settlement building from Barak to a ministerial committee.

The responsibilities of the committee were designated vaguely, including the formation of an official governmental policy regarding unregulated building in the West Bank.

According to a source who was present at the meeting, Barak spoke at length, calling on the ministers to act responsibly regarding settlement building, especially in light of the international ramifications of continual building in the West Bank.

Barak also expressed anger over several articles published over the last couple of days that presented the ministerial committee as a body that would circumvent his authority.

Throughout the meeting, Barak asked to change the makeup of the committee, arguing that the current one is “unbalanced” since it includes a clear majority of right-wing ministers. Barak requested to add ministers Shalom Simhon (Atzmaut) and Dan Meridor (Likud) in order to strengthen the representation of the “moderate camp” of the government.

Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz voted against the establishment of the committee, stating that it would harm the authority of the Defense Minister. “The decision will pave the way for everything that is problematic on the issue of settlements,” Mofaz said, adding that he had questions regarding the intentions behind the establishment of the committee.

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