Settlement Halt Not Enough for PA, Too Much for Rightists

The Palestinian Authority dismissed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement yesterday of a partial construction freeze in West Bank settlements, as right-wingers blasted the move and settler leaders launched a political campaign to fight the limited freeze.

Netanyahu announced a 10-month freeze on new construction, but said the construction of 3,000 new housing units in the settlements would continue unabated, as would construction in East Jerusalem.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the continued construction shows there's nothing new in Netanyahu's announcement.

"This is not a moratorium," he said. "Unfortunately, we hoped he would commit to a real settlement freeze so we can resume negotiations and he had a choice between settlements and peace and he chose settlements."

The Palestinian news agency Wafa quoted Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as saying that "resuming negotiations should be based on total halt to settlement construction in the West Bank, including Jerusalem."

Netanyahu's announcement sparked verbal attacks from settlers and right-wingers, who accused him of betraying his constituents.

"This government stabbed us in the back," said Ariel Mayor Ron Nahman. "In my worst nightmares I never imagined the most nationalist government would destroy the settlements."

Danny Dayan, who heads the Yesha Council of settlements, said Netanyahu was disappointing his voters.

"Netanyahu's government was elected for its promise to develop the West Bank settlements," he said. "Instead it has restricted the settlements and is now persecuting and destroying them."

National Union chairman MK Yaakov Katz said Netanyahu was "spitting in the faces of those whom he promised less than a year ago to reverse [Ariel] Sharon's policy of uprooting."

The Komemiut movement, which advocates the expansion of settlements, called on the right-wing parties and organizations to act to topple Netanyahu's government.

Riqht-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir accused Netanyahu of betraying Israel.

"It's time for the right to fight Netanyahu as they fought [Yitzhak] Rabin, [Ehud] Olmert, Sharon and [Ehud] Barak," he said.

MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) called the move "a capitulation the likes of which we haven't known since the days of Rabin."

Members of Netanyahu's party came out against the proposal.

"This is an anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist move that is patently illegal," said MK Yariv Levin (Likud). "One gets the impression that [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama is calling the shots." Another member of the ruling party, MK Danny Danon, said the freeze "is contrary to the Likud's promise to the voters."

Left-wing and centrist parties, meanwhile, cautiously commended the move but voiced uncertainty as to Netanyahu's ability to follow through on it.

Kadima expressed half-hearted support for the plan, saying in a statement that the party "supports every step that would return Israel to negotiations and to a permanent agreement."