Yediot: “Settlement construction spree” preceded “freeze”
Zvi Singer, Danny Adino Ababa and Itamar Eichner, Yediot, December 8 2009
The security cabinet decision to stop construction in the territories did not come as a complete surprise to the settlers of the Etzion and Talmon-Dolev blocs. In a race against time, the settlers managed to obtain construction permits and to lay the foundations for hundreds of new housing units immediately before the settlement construction freeze went into effect.
A high-ranking official who is knowledgeable about the issue of construction in Judea and Samaria confirmed to Yedioth Ahronoth that the settlers had laid foundations for some 450 new housing units in the four months preceding the freeze. Most of those new housing units are in the settlements Har Gilo, Tekoa, Keidar, Rosh Tzurim, Alon Shvut and Dolev. Sources on the Settlers Council cited a higher number than that and claimed to have laid the foundations to close to 1,000 new housing units. Since the construction freeze does not apply to buildings whose foundations were laid before the construction freeze went into effect, the settlers will now be permitted to complete the construction of the new housing units in question.
How did the settlers know in advance about the planned settlement construction freeze? “We anticipated,” said Settlers Council Director General Pinhas Wallerstein. “In the atmosphere that existed it wasn’t delusional to anticipate a decision to freeze.” Etzion Bloc Council Chairman Shaul Goldstein spoke in similar terms and said, “we were not given any advance warning. Everything was in the newspapers. Two months ago I convened a meeting with all of the builders in the Etzion Bloc and I told them that I could smell that this was about to happen. I asked everyone who had a legal construction permit in hand to build—and to do so quickly. Everything was done by the book. The people who managed to lay their foundations before the freeze don’t regret that today.”
As the date of the construction freeze drew nearer, the pace of construction was expedited. “Everyone went full steam ahead,” said one of the people involved in the process in a conversation with Yedioth Ahronoth. “We enlisted every last architect and surveyor in Judea and Samaria. We worked at that pace down to the last day.”
Meanwhile, the prime minister and the opposition chairwoman clashed yesterday over the settlement construction freeze. “You speak very militantly, but you’ve hurt the settlement blocs,” Tzippi Livni lambasted Netanyahu during a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “When the government places in the same [category of] speech the Etzion Bloc and Migron, both the blocs and the isolated settlements, the significance is a blow to the Israeli interest to retain the blocs in a final status arrangement. You haven’t told the settlers the truth and you’re deceiving them when you tell them that they’re going to be able to resume building in another ten months. When the prime minister says that everything is temporary and that afterwards everything will go back to usual, what that means is that the decision that needs to be made is absent.”
Netanyahu could not resist the temptation and fired back at Livni: “I’m glad that I’ve managed to crystallize a broad national agreement surrounding the fact that the blocs are [going to be] a part of the State of Israel in any future arrangement. I would suggest to the members of the opposition to visit the settlement blocs this coming Tu Bishvat, just as I intend to do.”