Thousands of Settlers Converge in Jerusalem to Protest U.S. Freeze Proposal

Infrastructure minister leaves cabinet meeting to join the demonstration held near PM's office.

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Thousands of Israeli West Bank settlers and their supporters converged on Jerusalem Sunday morning to protest a possible freeze in construction in their settlements, as proposed by the United States in order to get peace talks going again.

Settlers protesting against the freeze in Jerusalem Nov. 18, 2010Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The sex-segregated rally drew some 5,000 people to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. It was organized largely by regional councils, and most of the participants seemed to be under 30. Settler leaders described it as a "warning" strike against accepting the freeze.

Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau left the cabinet meeting to join in the protest.

"We said that we won't get out of the Golan or the Jordan Valley, we said that we won't return to the 1967 lines, which are the Auschwitz lines, and that we won't divide Jerusalem or evacuate the settlements," said Landau. "But every year we see that the governments are willing to make concessions."

In using the term "Auschwitz lines," Landau was alluding to former Foreign Minister Abba Eban's comment that the June 1967 lines pose such a danger to Israel as to recall Auschwitz.

Danny Dayan, who heads the Yesha Council of settlements, said the protesters wouldn't leave until Netanyahu decided to allow construction to continue.

"If Netanyahu doesn't go back to being the Netanyahu we know ¬ the prime minister of the nationalist camp... we won't move from here and won't leave the government complex," said Dayan.

Others expressed their opposition to the freeze by marching on Route 60 in the West Bank. Several dozen attempted to block the main entrance to Jerusalem, but did not resist police efforts to move them away.

Right-wing sources said protesters will continue to block roads if the government calls an end to settlement construction.

Under the terms of the U.S. proposal, Israel will suspend construction at its West Bank settlements for three months, so as to get the peace talks out of the limbo they have been in since a previous Israeli construction freeze expired nearly two months ago and was not renewed.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted the talks will not resume until and unless Israel renews the freeze.

Netanyahu is believed to be in favor of accepting the US proposal, despite the objections of many in his government, including around half the parliamentary caucus of his Likud Party. However, he is waiting for the U.S. to provide written guarantees before he brings the proposal to a vote in the cabinet.

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