Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"So, What's the Dif?"

Arlene Kushner

Rumors have been flying fast and furious regarding an informal agreement allegedly reached by Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Atias (Shas), Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to unilaterally freeze construction in settlements in Judea and Samaria until the end of this year in order to promote negotiations or give things a chance (or however it was euphemistically stated). Both the prime minister and Atias have denied this. From the prime minister's office came this statement:

"There is not now, nor was there any agreement between the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, and the Housing Minister to freeze construction in Judea and Samaria."

Atias, however, has been more forthcoming, saying that there was no "freeze," but rather simply a decision to "shelve construction" for the time being, with no new tenders for building having been issued since Netanyahu took office. (Building is being done, but in accordance with prior tenders.)

That failure to issue tenders has extended to even the major settlement blocs and to eastern Jerusalem (where our government has declared the right of Jews to live and establish homes). Atias said that a compromise on a freeze was still being worked on by the Netanyahu and Obama governments, and that the Netanyahu government wanted to sustain the principle of allowing the settlers to live normal lives.


Well, I must be very dense, because I'm not sure I see the difference between a freeze made in an agreement with the US and unilaterally shelving construction. The most that can be said is that we are in control of timing, and can begin instituting construction again whenever we wish.

But, on the negative side, the unilateral action has a terribly obsequious feel. Netanyahu claims to be big on "reciprocity." And so, why? Why should we give anything to a US president who has unreasonably put the onus for "peace" on us, or to a PA that has just held a conference that promoted violence against us? Are we looking at a prime minister who is all too eager to show that we are the good guys and to keep the international community happy?


Several things have transpired that make all of this particularly infuriating. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has just met with Obama. At their subsequent press conference, Obama, in response to a question regarding Israeli settlement construction, declared that both he and Mubarak are "encouraged" by the "positive movement" in the "peace process." How lovely. Just what we need: to make these guys happy at a price that curtails our rights.


Now it has made the news that a "senior diplomat" of Israel says that it has been known to "those who need to know" that we have not issued any tenders for building in Judea and Samaria for four months: it was specifically mentioned that George Mitchell, US envoy here, knows, which means Obama also does -- and I would assume also Abbas.

So, my question is why a big deal has been made about the need for a "freeze" these past four months, if it's been known. Why does Obama announce his pleasure with the "movement" now if nothing has changed since April? Precisely what is the dynamic we're looking at and what's going on behind the scenes?


If Netanyahu imagined that this voluntary curtailment of building would enable us to secure increased good will from the Palestinians or gestures from the Arabs, he's been dreaming. Mubarak made this clear in the press conference, at which he reiterated the Arab position that their gestures would come at the end of the process, and -- except for the outside possibility of some very minimal movement -- not now.

What is more, the PA positions, which have moved further towards Hamas and make ever more stringent demands, are not exactly conciliatory either. In addition to which, Abbas is again making noises about negotiating a unity government with Hamas.


A couple of additional notes on this issue:

Peace Now is claiming that even if there is a freeze on construction in Judea and Samaria, it would apply only to government approved building, while in fact some 60% of building is private. But it has been my understanding that all housing must receive approval from the Construction and Housing Ministry, so that I don't believe this statement stands.


And this, from the Post, which is politically of great significance:

"[Atias] revealed that in the past, the Construction and Housing Ministry had approved mortgages for settlers who lived in outposts which were established without government approval or recognition."

Well, I've already explained that almost always there is SOME government approval -- for electricity, water, roads, whatever. "...established without government approval or recognition..." is not quite the case, but refers to that final signature only.

But here we have the mind-blowing acknowledgement that people have received government mortgages for houses that were then declared "unapproved." Go make sense out of this schizoid and unfair situation.


Lastly, I am fascinated by the inherent conflict between Netanyahu's very public statement regarding our right to live as Jews in eastern Jerusalem, and the failure to issue tenders for building there. In particular, I wait to see how the Shepherd Hotel matter will be resolved: Will there be renovations of that hotel and/or construction on the property surrounding the hotel for Jewish apartments?

Right wing members of the government are furious about this entire business of the unilateral "shelving of construction" and insist that a Cabinet decision on building is required.

So, once again, folks, I provide contact information so you might communicate with the appropriate people regarding this issue: No freeze on building in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. Not even a unilateral, informal cessation of the issuing of tenders, as this contravenes Jewish rights.

All phone and fax numbers from the US: 011-972, then drop the "0" and proceed with the rest of the number.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud)

Fax: 02-670-5369

Phone: 03-610-9898
E-mail: (underscore after pm)

Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya'alon (Likud)
Fax: none provided
Phone: 02-6408891

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor)
Fax: 02-6496117
Phone: 02-6753223

Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas)
Fax: 02-6662909
Phone: 02-6408406/7

Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Atias (Shas)
Fax: 02-6753934
Phone: 02-6753934

Minister Benny Begin (Likud)
Fax: none provided
Phone: 02-6408022

National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beitenu)
Fax: none provided
Phone: 02-6408055/4

Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkovitz (Habayit Hayehudi)
Fax: 02-6496159
Phone: 02-6496100

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu)
Fax: 02-6408921
Phone: 02-6408388/9

Minister of Information Yuli Edelstein (Likud)
Fax: 02-6758919
Phone: 02-6408392

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud)
Fax: 02-6496579

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud)
Fax: 02-6496525

Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beitenu)
Fax: none provided
Phone: 02-6408825

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beitenu)
Fax: 02-6753372
Phone: 02-6408111/2

Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu)
Fax: 02-6496744
Phone: 02-6408183/2

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud)
Fax: 02-6753525
Phone: 02-6408131/375

Communication Minister Moshe Kahlon (Likud)
Fax: 02-6408902
Phone: 02-6408365


What has been reassuringly clear in past weeks is that we have some good friends -- officials and former officials-- in America. I allude, for example, to Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader.

We have here in Israel now an extraordinary friend, Mike Huckabee -- former governor of Arkansas, talk show host (The Huckabee Report, ABC), and Republican presidential candidate hopeful -- who is visiting under the auspices of Ateret Cohanim, which is promoting the purchase of property for Jewish homes in eastern Jerusalem.


Huckabee, for whom a private reception was held at the Shepherd hotel earlier this week, has said the establishment of a Palestinian state here simply won't work:

"The point is that if you try to layer two governments on top of each other, there is going to be nothing but conflict. I don't know how that would work. That comes back to the question of how you designate two owners of the same car.

"Historically, the international community has already said Israel has a right to be here, that this is going to be their homeland.

"The question is, should the Palestinians have a place to call their own? Yes, I have no problem with that. Should it be in the middle of the Jewish homeland? That's what I think has to be honestly assessed as virtually unrealistic."

Huckabee says he has speculated on the idea that the Palestinian state might be in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. (Interesting, that he avoided mention of Jordan.) His point is that the Palestinian state should be somewhere else, decided upon by the international community.

It was unreasonable, he said, to ask the Jews to surrender their land for another state:

"They [the Jews] have been given a tiny minuscule strip of land call home. To ask them to...give increasing amounts of acreage away for what is hoped [would] be a peaceful arrangement - it has not resulted in creating any level of peace."


To see a video of a Huckabee interview, with statements about his response to Israel and his sense that "the dry bones have come alive," see the link below.

Huckabee alludes to the fact that he wasn't allowed into Nablus (Shechem) because he had Jews in his party. "Arab people can go to the Jewish parts of Jerusalem, and the Jewish parts of Israel, but the Jewish people could not go there.” About time someone noticed this.


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