When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds her next press conference, someone should ask her, as the person who praised the Netanyahu government's restraint over the settlements, what she has to say about the following declaration: "Many housing units are being built in Judea and Samaria on the basis of permits from various periods."
It is the official response from the Defense Minister's bureau about the building of a new neighborhood by the name of Kramim on the outskirts of the Beit Aryeh settlement.
Ehud Barak's spokesman confirmed that Kramim is not included in the plan for 492 housing units that the minister "unfroze." This response makes a mockery of Clinton's praises, since in "various periods" there were various defense ministers (including Barak himself) who distributed permits for some 50,000 housing units in the settlements.
The minister has the authority to unfreeze or to cancel any permit and even to stop building that is already underway.
"With regard to the initiative itself," the spokesman for the man who holds Yitzhak Rabin's legacy stated, "we shall examine whether it fits the criteria."
They had better hurry. Tomorrow morning another tour of the area of the new project will take place. The Web site of the settlement has detailed plans for every plot. The construction company promises that the first semi-detached houses of the 100 housing units will be handed over to the buyers in eight months' time. It is possible to see the bulldozers flattening the earth. Prices range from NIS 355,000 to NIS 409,000 for the plots, depending on the size.
And if we are talking about construction, no one would suppose that the defense minister did not approve the establishment of the Arzei Halevanon educational-communal center in the settlement of Eli (23 kilometers east of Rosh Ha'ayin, that is outside the "settlement bloc.")
As everyone knows, Jews will never set up a building meant to serve as a synagogue and educational center without the approval of the authorities.
But nevertheless, the objection to the plan for the new building, submitted by the council of Assawiye, the Palestinian village next to Eli, raises the slight suspicion that the settlers are acting according to their own laws.
In its objection, the village council wrote that Eli does not have an approved plan that makes it possible to build living quarters. The basic principles of planning, to say nothing of simple logic, state that first the plan for living quarters for the public must be approved and only after that the public buildings for the residents.
The Jordanian planning law that applies to the area stipulates that a master plan must include reference to public areas, including prayer areas and halls for public gathering, "with regard to the number of residents to whom these services are to be provided."
Those who are objecting claim that the only valid plan in the area today is the Mandatory plan. That plan defines the area of Eli as an agricultural area.
This means that the hundreds of housing units that have been built there were set up against the law, and if these buildings received permits, they are not legal.
But when Jews set up buildings, legal or not, their Palestinian neighbors must be kept away. That is a security matter, isn't it? This practice has the name "special security area", known by the Hebrew acronym "shabam."
When the new educational center is set up, the shabam will be extended and additional lands belonging to Assawiye, including their olive orchards, will be dependent on the benevolence of the settlers and the army.
Meanwhile, back on the Golan Heights
Even though the Syrians (and the Americans) are not showing special interest in the settlements on the Golan, a red flag is also flying from the top of the peaceful heights. During the past year, tenders were issued for dozens of plots in the Katzrin area, for housing, commerce and industry. Even though the vast majority of tenders did not garner interest, someone in the government is taking pains to publish more and more tenders.
Hagit Ofran, head of the Settlement Watch project of Peace Now, who has documented the publications, found that during more than 10 years only 25 of the 370 plots offered to the public were sold.
Ofran is having difficulty deciding what is worse - that the government's insistence on publishing the tenders for the settlements in the Golan Heights is a diplomatic provocation, or that this is merely stupidity and waste? If the first possibility is correct, the government has done the work of the Golan lobby.
A double whammy for Shalom
Whether intentionally or not, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave one of his predecessors, Silvan Shalom, a double whammy. When Shalom left the ministry, he vowed he would obstruct the careers of two diplomats who he claimed had given him a bad name in the media - Danny Ayalon, who was then ambassador to Washington, and Alon Pinkas who was the consul general in New York.
When the current government was established, not only did Shalom have to shelve his longing for the Foreign Ministry but Lieberman even brought in Ayalon as deputy minister.
At the time, Shalom was able to thwart Pinkas' appointment as director general of one of the American Jewish organizations and forced him to say goodbye to New York. Pinkas, who went over from Shimon Peres' court to Ehud Barak's entourage and then to David Levy's bureau, adopted Benjamin Netanyahu before the elections.
Shalom brought him back from the Big Apple but Lieberman is sending him back to New York and upgrading him to the much desired status of ambassador to the United Nations.
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