Cablegate: Ministers Publicly Split On Settlements

DE RUEHTV #1842 2311123
O 191123Z AUG 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY: Government ministers are sending mixed signals in the
press on Israel's position regarding settlements ahead of the
expected meeting next week between Prime Minister Netanyahu and
Special Envoy Mitchell. Political tensions are growing as several
influential ministers visited illegal outposts and called for them
to be legalized, while there were contradictory press reports about
Israel offering a three to four month freeze on settlements.
Minister of Housing Arial Attias told reporters on August 16 that a
de-facto freeze is already in place. END SUMMARY.

2. On August 17, Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya'alon
(Likud) led a group of four ministers on a tour of several illegal
outposts in the West Bank. The tour also included Minister of the
Interior and SHAS Chairman Eli Yishai, Minister of Information Yuli
Edelstein (Likud), and Science and Technology Minister Daniel
Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi). The ministers said that the
outposts were not illegal, claiming the GOI supported their
construction, and therefore the government should move quickly to
legalize them (NOTE: The GOI has provided some direct support for
construction and utilities in certain illegal outposts. The extent
of support at the outposts visited is unclear. END NOTE). They
also called for the reconstruction of Homesh, a Jenin-area
settlement that was evacuated during the 2005 Disengagement.

3. Minister of Defense Barak, who is responsible for implementing
government policy in the West Bank, immediately issued a statement
that the government's policy is unchanged and that Israel will
enforce the law and will eventually remove illegal outposts. MK
Eitan Cabel, a "rebel" in Barak's Labor Party, said that the tour
shows that the government is "extremist and delusional." The
opposition Kadima Party released a statement that the government's
attempts to fool the international community, by simultaneously
saying it wants to remove and legalize outposts, are "dangerous to
Israel and may hurt its interests, including maintaining sovereignty
over the settlement blocs."

4. At the same time, there were press reports that the Prime
Minister will offer the United States a three to four month
settlement freeze, although the Prime Minister's office denied the
story. Minister of Housing Ariel Attias (SHAS) said that a
temporary freeze, what he called a waiting period, was already in
place as the government has not issued any tenders since it took
office last April. He said that this waiting period should allow
Israel to evaluate any Arab world gestures and pave the way for
international recognition of Israel's control of the settlement
blocs and its sovereignty over Jerusalem. NOTE: Attias' party, SHAS,
officially opposes a settlement freeze. END NOTE.

5. Several high-ranking government officials, including Deputy
Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Yisrael Beitenu), denied there would
be a settlement freeze and asserted any freeze would have to be
approved by the cabinet. Ayalon added that if a settlement freeze
came before the cabinet, Yisrael Beitenu would oppose it. The
settlement community also reacted strongly to the reports of a
freeze, with the Binyamin Regional Council issuing a statement
saying it is the "same old Bibi," while Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman
complained that Barak has been refusing to authorize legal
construction permits in the West Bank and warned that a settlement
freeze would bring down the government.

6. COMMENT: Since it took office nearly five months ago, the GOI
has only issued a few tenders for minor infrastructure works in the
West Bank. However, there are over 1,000 housing units under
construction in the West Bank, and a surplus of tenders issued by
the previous government, so this could be driven by market forces as
well as policy. Peace Now also notes that government tenders only
account for around 40 percent of the construction in the
settlements. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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