Activists to intensify protest against settlement freeze with road blocks
Right-wing activists are planning to block major traffic arteries throughout the country next week as part of an escalating protest of the government decision to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank for 10 months.
The idea is to disrupt traffic at major junctions, similar to the protests held against the disengagement and evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements in 2005. It is still unclear whether the idea is finding fertile ground or when such protests will take place.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met yesterday with a group of more than 20 members of the Yesha Council, where he stressed that "the law must be respected and cabinet decisions must be carried out."
He also blamed the Palestinian Authority for not responding to Israel's decision to freeze settlement construction and for refusing to return to the negotiating table. Netanyahu called PA President Mahmoud Abbas "someone who refuses peace."
The meeting with the settler leaders lasted more than two hours, instead of the original hour that had been planned. Present at the meeting were 22 community leaders, and three from the Yesha Council leadership. Each was given an opportunity to raise complaints against the decision to freeze construction. Much of the anger was directed against Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Netanyahu stressed that he does not intend to rescind his decision on the construction freeze, saying it would be carried out in full.
"There is one thing that is out of the question," he said. "You are allowed to demonstrate and protest, but you cannot show disrespect for a decision that was made lawfully. The solution is dialogue. We need to work together during this period and cooperate."
The prime minister asked the settler leaders to hold a meeting with Barak as well, but they refused. Netanyahu tried to explain his reasons for the decision to freeze construction, and directed much of his dissatisfaction with the situation at the Palestinian Authority.
"The decision made by the cabinet is the best for Israel under the complicated diplomatic circumstances Israel is in and in view of the multifaceted challenges facing us," the prime minister said. "We made a difficult decision in order to advance the broader interests of Israel. This move makes it clear to key players around the world that Israel is serious in its intentions to achieve peace, while the Palestinians refuse to enter negotiations for peace. There is a side that wants to [talk] and another that does not. This move has made clear [which side] is refusing peace."
Trying to appease the settlers, Netanyahu asked for their patience and promised to resume construction after the 10-month hiatus was over. He also promised that the implementation of the order banning construction would "be carried out in the least intrusive way possible for the public, and where there are unnecessary difficulties, we shall make them go away."
One of the community leaders, Avi Naim of Beit Aryeh, challenged the prime minister on what many settlers consider a betrayal of his pre-election campaign promises.
"You were [at Beit Aryeh] three days before the elections. How were we made illegitimate law breakers overnight? Everything we have done [has been done legally]. Last month I filed charges against eight people who violated building permits. We protested legitimately - the police treated us violently. My 7-year-old called me to ask me whether I'd been arrested," Naim said.
Naim also demanded that the defense minister's assistant on settlement issues, Eitan Broshi, be replaced.
Meanwhile, the settlers have petitioned the High Court of Justice against the order to freeze construction. This is the second petition filed with the court this week. The petitioners claim that GOC Central Command has no right to implement the order on the basis of political criteria without the settlers being given the right to a hearing.