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Ha'aretz, June 29, 1999 

And for Barak's Next Act, Juggling the Settlements

By Nadav Shragai

During a candid meeting between Yisrael b'Aliyah and National Religious Party officials and Ehud Barak several weeks ago, the prime minister-elect was asked to clarify his precise plans for the future of the settlements. The meeting took place after it had already been agreed in principle that Barak would effectively be the final arbiter of settlement-related disputes between Meretz and the two parties. However, both Yitzhak Levy (NRP chair) and Natan Sharansky (Yisrael b'Aliyah chair) insisted on understanding Barak beyond the generally good impression they had of him. Barak tried to give the two ministers some friendly reassurance along the lines of "it'll be alright" and "you can trust me," but it did not suffice. Barak deliberated a little and then told them something like this: you have, after all, known me for quite some time. I am ideologically a centrist and I very much appreciate the settlements. When I spoke of Beit El and Ofra, I wasn't using slogans. I meant what I said. But it should be obvious to you that if someone wants to build a monument for Baruch Goldstein or create a provocation and not a settlement, I'll prevent it.The future of the 10 hills taken after the Wye agreement, which is not mentioned in the coalition agreements or in the government's basic guidelines, also came up during the meetings with Barak. The prime minister-elect refused to comment on this in writing but repeatedly used two words in his spoken remarks: "flexibility" and "reason." "We'll be as flexible as possible," Barak promised, "but within the borders of reason."

Barak's borders of reason were not delineated during the talks with NRP and Yisrael b'Aliyah officials, nor did he show all his cards. Barak did however let his interlocutors understand that outposts which had already received the defense establishment's approval would in the meantime be reclassified as "decisions already made by the government of [Benjamin] Netanyahu." Further flexibility would be possible, Yisrael b'Aliyah officials implied, with regard to illegal outposts established in "areas of consensus," such as Gush Etzion (Givat Hahish, near Alon Shvut).

Nevertheless, Barak will apparently not be flexible about illegal outposts in areas where from the outset he considers a Jewish presence there superfluous and temporary, such as Nablus and even the southern Mount Hebron area.

The Nablus area has the most militant group of Jewish settlers, primarily in the area of Yitzhar and Itamar, where many outposts were set up before and after the Wye accord, and not all have received government approval. Netanyahu several times blocked efforts by his defense minister, Moshe Arens, to evacuate such places in the Nablus area, and Levy was also involved in preventing Civil Administration and IDF attempts to do the same, e.g., hill 777 near Itamar. Barak will probably give the defense establishment a green light to evacuate these outposts, and the first clash between him and settlers is expected there.

The construction going on in Hebron - Beit Nahum and Yehuda, Beit Hashisha and two additional floors for Beit Romano - will apparently not be stopped by the Barak government. On the other hand, a special ministerial committee will discuss the plans for construction of permanent buildings in Tel Rumeida. This construction has yet to start and Meretz is demanding it be stopped. Netanyahu approved the project after the murder of Rabbi Ra'anan and it has been delayed until now, among other reasons, because of the need to carry out archaeological excavations there.

There are also decisions from the Netanyahu government which Barak led his dialogue partners to believe he is satisfied with. These things were said with a wink as if to say "you've done my work for me," but in a way that could not have been misunderstood. That is the case with the decision to link Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. Barak made a specific promise on that issue later on, but the same pattern applied to other areas. The National Infrastructures Ministry has in recent years been working to cut off settlements supplied by Palestinian water systems, such as Beit El and Ofra which received water from Ramallah, or Telem and Adora which received it from Hebron. Such places were hooked up directly to the national water project. Similar actions were taken for electricity supply, and many communities which had received electricity via the East Jerusalem electric company's grid, were hooked up to the Israeli grid.

Barak wants this "separation" and also intends to encourage it in the future. In the spirit of this "separation," the construction of many of the bypass roads decided on by the Netanyahu government will continue.

The development of industrial zones in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha) which Sharansky took such pride in, is likely to stop with Ran Cohen's appointment as Trade and Industry minister. The Housing Ministry, in contrast, will be in NRP hands and this likely ensures projects to market lands and offer tenders for government-initiated construction primarily in municipal areas of Yesha - Ma'aleh Adumim, Beitar, Kiryat Sefer and Ariel. The NRP will be particularly interested in realizing its age-old dream and establishing an NRP city, near the village of Brukin, where construction of 2,000 housing units is planned.

These anticipated projects by an NRP-controlled Housing Ministry will need the approval of Defense Minister Barak, and this shows the decisive importance of the adviser on settlement affairs. Under Rabin, Noah Kinarti served in that capacity, and he is to this day identified in Yesha with the freeze on construction in settlements and their being "dried up." Kinarti also served in that post under Yitzhak Mordechai, but was later replaced by Uri Ariel, a former secretary general of the Yesha Council. Ariel resigned the post after concluding that he would not be able to promote settlement in Yesha under Mordechai. His successor, Eli Cohen, a Ma'aleh Adumim resident, had free rein from Mordechai to promote construction programs in Yesha. Mordechai delegated many of his authorities to Cohen, who spurred the approval of hundreds of land confiscation orders for the purpose of expanding settlements and of dozens of master plans for Yesha settlements.

One of Barak's associates this week speculated that Barak would handle the settlement issue as did Rabin and Netanyahu. First, he will limit the number of permits issued, freeze several projects and order a "reevaluation," all in order to appease the left wing of his government and primarily, the United States. Then, he will loosen the strings, primarily in areas of high demand, close to the Green Line - western Samaria and greater Jerusalem. Then, finally he will throw a few crumbs to outlying communities from which Barak will not withhold any protective and security measures, but whose expansion he will restrict


(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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