Former minister Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) on Wednesday leveled strong criticism at Defense Minister Amir Peretz, the head of his party, for deluding voters on the issue of illegal settlement construction in the West Bank.
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has demanded that Peretz stop delaying the publication of regulations that would make it easier for the state to combat the illegal construction.
"I take a very grave view of the conduct of the defense minister," said Pines-Paz. "It is a breach of trust as the evacuation of outposts was a specific election promise of the Labor Party."
He said that he intends to raise the issue at the next Labor Knesset faction meeting.
Mazuz sent a letter on the subject to Peretz last week, the third such letter he has sent to the Defense Ministry in the last year. The first was sent to Peretz's predecessor, Shaul Mofaz, and the next two to Peretz.
Since the Israel Defense Forces is technically the sovereign power in the territories, it is the defense minister who must promulgate the relevant regulations. Four such regulations have been drafted, but Peretz has not yet approved them.
The regulations in question would impose prison sentences and heavy fines on people who build illegally in the territories; turn illegal construction into a criminal offense; and enable the army to tow away caravans without any legal proceedings.
Mazuz has also been demanding for about a year that the Civil Administration appoint special prosecutors to draw up indictments against settlers who violate construction laws.
In his letter, Mazuz noted that Peretz has refrained from approving the regulations because of a dispute between the Defense and Finance ministries over the number of additional employees that the Civil Administration will be allowed to hire to enforce the new rules. "This dispute does not need to prevent publication of the legislation," Mazuz wrote, because it could also be resolved after the regulations are published.
"Civil Administration data indicates that the trend of construction in illegal outposts, including the construction of permanent buildings, is continuing," the letter noted. "This construction is admittedly less than it was in past years, apparently due to the stoppage of government budgets and the activities of the inspection unit, but the extent is still significant."
Between January and September 2006, Mazuz said, 168 illegal buildings were discovered in settlements and outposts, about one-third of them in the final two months of this period.
Mazuz acknowledged that illegal Palestinian construction in the West Bank is twice as extensive as illegal Jewish construction, but said the Civil Administration has demolished 10 times as many illegal Palestinian houses as illegal Jewish houses: From 1997 to 2006, 1,519 illegal Palestinian buildings were demolished, compared to only 150 illegal Jewish buildings.
The fact that illegal building in the territories is continuing makes both promulgation of the new regulations and an increase in manpower devoted to enforcement essential, Mazuz wrote.
Peretz could not be reached for comment last night.
Meanwhile, attorney Gilad Sherman of the Justice Ministry's High Court division acknowledged publicly Tuesday that "the law enforcement situation in the territories is not good."
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