Akiva Eldar / Israel may have frozen settlements, but does it want peace?
For Netanyahu, the settlement crisis was the perfect tactic for diverting attention away from peace talks.
On the eve of signing the settlement construction freeze order, Avigdor Lieberman told reporters that the settlements had never been an obstacle to peace. The proof, the foreign minister explained, is that the Jewish settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria did not stop Egypt and Jordan from signing peace agreements with Israel.
Therefore, the settlements are not the real reason why the Palestinians are refusing to resume peace negotiations. The natural growth and mortality rates among residents in Judea and Samaria since the two Arab neighbors signed peace agreements provide the strongest proof that Lieberman is correct.
He just forgets to mention that the Egyptians and Jordanians took Israel's promises to end the occupation seriously.
Even the Palestinians, the direct victim of land theft, did not present the construction freeze as a condition for negotiations. The settlements are not the real reason for President Mahmoud Abbas's refusal to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The point of contention hinges on a completely different issue: the peace process. Abbas insists that the talks on the permanent status agreement be based on the parameters of the 2003 Road Map, which received affirmation in a UN Security Council Resolution. The map is reminiscent, among other things, of the Arab peace initiative which focused on normalization in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967.
Netanyahu has yet to utter the words "road map" and refuses to revise its timetable (which originally called for the conflict to end in 2005).
The prime minister is also rejecting the Palestinian demand to resume the negotiations at the point where Abbas and Ehud Olmert ended them a year ago.
For Netanyahu, the crisis regarding the settlements was therefore the perfect diversionary tactic; first he wore out the Americans with fights over the wording of the construction freeze and now the clashes with the settlers over the freeze orders are distracting the public from the wording of the negotiations.
A foreign diplomat this week offered another indication that the Netanyahu-Lieberman government managed to transform the settlements into an obstacle to peace.
"Bibi knew that announcing the continuation of construction in East Jerusalem would guarantee that [Abbas] would maintain his refusal to resume the negotiations," said the diplomat. "If Bibi were truly interested in meeting him, he would have made do with an announcement declaring a freeze on settlements. Period."
A test for the new attorney general
If the Beit Yehonatan case is handled in the coming weeks in the same roundabout way that Jerusalem municipality activists have been leading it, it will be an interesting test for Yehuda Weinstein, the new attorney general chosen by a right-wing government.
Since last July, there has been a pending court order to evacuate and seal the seven-story house that the right-wing organization Ateret Cohanim built without a permit in the heart of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem.
Over the last few months, Mayor Nir Barkat has been waging a fierce battle against the municipality's legal adviser, attorney Yossi Havilio, who wants, surprisingly, to obey the law and the court's orders.
Havilio is instructing the construction supervision department and the police to carry out the order immediately. The mayor is ordering a delay in implementation to allow for a compromise: razing the top two floors and granting a permit for the five lower floors (contrary to the municipal master plan).
Last week, Havilio wrote to Deputy Mayor Yosef Pepe Alalu that on October 22 he notified the police that, "There is no agreement ... with the accused and I asked the Israel Police to help ... urgently with the implementation of the order. Unfortunately and despite all of my many requests and the requests of the construction supervision department to the police, the orders still have yet to be implemented."
This case is well known to the Justice Ministry. A response submitted to Haaretz by the Justice Ministry spokesman stated that the State Prosecutor's Office's department of land law enforcement "is closely monitoring the implementation of the ruling in the case. When it became clear, at various stages, that the professional crews, which are responsible for enforcement in the local planning and construction council, faced difficulties in implementing the ruling due to the intervention of elected (political) officials in the Jerusalem municipality, the department also made sure to clarify to various officials in the municipality and in the Israel Police the legal situation, regarding their obligations to rapidly uphold the order, to enable officials responsible for law enforcement in Jerusalem, guided by the municipality's legal adviser, to carry out the order as required and to prevent the efforts of political operatives to thwart implementation."
The ministry noted that the attorney general and Interior Ministry director general bulletins stress that elected officials are barred from intervening in enforcement matters.
The municipality's responded, "In 2009, the municipality carried out 112 razing orders, 49 in the western part of the city, and 63 in its eastern part, with no regard to religion, race or gender ... contrary to efforts to portray this as such, the municipality is not trying to cover up for the construction violations that occurred in Beit Yehonatan. In addition to this structure, there are hundreds of illegal Arab structures with exactly the same legal status. The municipality does not intend to specify the status of their implementation, which is being discussed between the municipality, police, State Prosecutor's Office, the government and the Knesset. In the coming weeks, hearings have been scheduled to discuss the matter in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and between the Jerusalem municipality and other officials."
The Jerusalem district office of the police responded that "This question should be addressed to the Jerusalem municipality. The police are only an auxiliary factor in enforcing orders."
The national police headquarters said the order would be implemented in the next few days.