The feeling one gets, on reading the reports of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting today with angry leaders of Judea and Samaria communities, is that he knows. He knows that the government has saddled them and all of the residents of Judea and Samaria with an unfair deal.
Binyamin Netanyahu is capable of dealing tough. Anyone who has confronted him is likely to attest to this. But with the Judea and Samaria leaders he sounded atypically apologetic and conciliatory.
There is reason for this. It is not just that an announcement was made stating that there would be no new tenders, no new starts, on building in Judea and Samaria — as bad as that would have been. That’s the way the prime minister’s announcement originally made it sound: The 3,000 units already underway would proceed, but there would be no new starts, etc. etc.
Instead it’s been done in a heavy-handed fashion, with — as I described yesterday — building that had already been given proper bureaucratic go-ahead and was just beginning suddenly and precipitously shut down. People caught off-guard, and in some cases trapped financially — their plans gone awry. Inspectors for the Civil Administration, in some cases put in place from other jobs in various agencies and ministries, marching onto properties and attempting to hand people “stop-work” orders.
It’s not going well. For the inspectors and the prime minister, that is. I’m mighty pleased with the feisty stance of the people, and proud of them. In Kedumim and Karnei Shomron today, crowds of people stopped inspectors from entering the communities. It happened in Beit Arye, and in Talmon, when residents tried to do the same, they ended up clashing with police. And so it is proceeding.
Yesterday, in Efrat, the leaders of the Yesha [Judea, Samaria, Gaza] Council laid a cornerstone for a new synagogue. A sign stretched across the community’s entrance read, “No entry to Bibi’s inspectors,” while residents on the scene sported T-shirts that said, “In Efrat we are defrosting the freeze.”
The first meeting that was scheduled with a government official was with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, last night. But most community leaders, expressing a particular antipathy for Barak, boycotted the meeting, indicating that they wanted to speak directly with Netanyahu. Only two were willing to participate, and Barak told them:
“Settlement blocs will be an integral part of Israel in any future negotiations with the Palestinians. The Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea are regions that are dear to my heart.” Very touching.
He further explained that “the connection and coordination with the US are essential to Israel from political and security points of view.
“I know that this step is a difficult one, but this is a step essential to the State of Israel today.”
At this point, unless something comes clear, these are no more than words.
Today the community leaders met with Netanyahu for two hours, in Tel Aviv.
“We are not enemies, and if there things that need to be amended – we will fix them,” he is reported to have said, while offering reassurance that the freeze would definitely be terminated in 10 months: “Read my lips…”
Apparently he implied that there might be some measures taken to alleviate problems in the field. Later I read about some “adjustments” to be made so that a porch could be closed in, or a sewer line put in, or air conditioning [air conditioning here means cooling and heating]. But it bewilders me as to why doing these things should have constituted a problem at all — that a stop was put on such things is really heavy-handed. Additionally I am reading about a “benefits package” being put together for residents who have been inconvenienced or worse.
The community leaders who met with the prime minister then told him that they hadn’t come to negotiate these small matters (and that adjustment of them would not mollify them). They had come, they said, to protest the freeze: they felt that Barak was securing political gain from this, and that he, Netanyahu, was disconnected from the field.
With this, they raise the very pertinent and serious question as to who is running the country. (In other contexts it sometimes seems as if Shimon Peres is, but I’ll come back to that some other time.) Barak, as Defense Minister, has particular authority for communities beyond the Green Line, which, regrettably, are not governed under Israeli civil law. It’s not difficult to understand that, by being heavy handed in administering the freeze, he would gain plaudits from restive members of his Labor party. But what needs to be asked is if Netanyahu signed off on what was happening or was more or less absent where the details were concerned — which is why he now seeks to make amends.
Even before the meeting, Pinhas Wallerstein, Director-General of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, told Army Radio that possible financial benefits that were being suggested would not keep residents from “using their bodies. [The leaders] have no intention to stop this struggle…and we are willing to pay with great pain.”
After the meeting, Yesha Council head Danny Dayan said that it had been “difficult” and “emotionally charged.” He, too, spoke about ways in which community residents would continue to protest, both via civil disobedience and legal efforts.
There is a mass demonstration in Jerusalem planned for next week. In addition, local community councils from Judea and Samaria filed a petition with the High Court today, requesting that the freeze be cancelled. The petition — filed against the government, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi — maintains that the order to freeze construction is political and thus will seriously undermine military authority in the area.
In response to the petition draw up by Danny Danon, the Central Committee of Likud indeed will be meeting later this month. Now the political battle is on to ensure that the issue of the freeze is not only discussed, but voted upon.
Please read, “The Illegal-Settlements Myth”:
The French Ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, has indicated to The Jerusalem Post that France has “several strong reservations” about the proposal being advanced by Sweden to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
“Let us be clear the text is not an EU text; it is a Swedish proposal looking for agreement by the 27 EU members of the Council of Foreign Affairs next Tuesday,” he said.
Well OK, let’s hope for the best.
As the rumors continue to fly with regard to a prisoner trade for Shalit, the issue of including Marwan Barghouti is frequently raised. We have no definitive information that Israel is considering his release, but it has been said that if he were to be released, Israel would demand that he be deported out of the area. What is definitive, according to a report by Khaled Abu Toameh today, is that Barghouti’s wife and associates say that Barghouti would decline to leave the area. He would remain in prison rather than be deported.
“The Good News Corner”
Frivolous matters, because sometimes that’s what we need:
Merchants at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem this week put together the world’s largest mixed grill, in an effort to set a Guinness world record. Some of Jerusalem’s finest chefs came to help, and Angels bakeries provided a pita three feet in diameter for the grill. Roughly 175 pounds of meat were used.
Passersby and merchants were allowed to partake, once it was done.
Good heavens! Chanukah begins next week and the treat associated with the holiday here in Israel is the donut or sufganiya — a donut of the filled variety. But now alcohol importers have hit upon the idea of providing donuts infused with vodka. Put together by a baker who is also a bartender, the donuts, which also contain jelly, have an alcohol content equivalent to a bottle of beer. They will be sold — I assume in limited outlets — only to ID- bearing adults. Count me out here.