Highway to Nowhere

When people from the Association of Civil Rights in Israel informed the leaders of the Palestinian villages near Route 443 of the High Court of Justice decision to open the road to Palestinian traffic, they advised the village chiefs not to run off and celebrate. The experience in countless petitions has taught them that the five months the judges gave the military authorities to find ways other than restricting traffic to secure the road can turn into years.

For example, in October 2006 the State Attorney's office admitted to High Court of Justice judges that the Migron outpost was built on privately owned Palestinian land. And what has happened since then? The High Court of Justice has still not decided and new homes have since been built unhindered and in broad daylight in the outpost. And there is no end in sight.

The State Attorney's office also does not see the ruling in the Route 443 case as the end of the road. As early as the next morning, there was a senior level meeting to discuss ways of torpedoing the decision. It is almost certain that the state will announce that the army needs additional time in order to prepare a new security infrastructure.

Because of the highway's importance to the country it is possible that the State Attorney's office will ask the Supreme Court to hold another hearing in the High Court of Justice before an extended panel of judges.

People in the know say that Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch will have a hard time finding many colleagues who agree with her ruling. Judges, like Knesset members from all parties, prefer to use the road, which bypasses the traffic jams on Route 1 on the way to Tel Aviv.

Since the road was closed to Palestinians, the judges got used to traveling on it without seeing Palestinian license plates. So what if the intifada is behind them?

Sasson's outposts

The task of sweeping the Route 443 ruling under the rug was assigned to deputy State Prosecutor Malkiel Balas, who is considered a leading expert in this area. He is the one who prepared the "alternative outposts report" that swept the Sasson Report of March 2005 under the rug. This enabled the regional councils in Judea and Samaria to continue construction projects as usual.

New communities continue to appear under the guise of "expansion of an existing community" which requires the approval of the defense minister, with the consent of the prime minister. However, the Sasson Report recommended that any expansion of a settlement require a cabinet decision to be presented to the entire public and the world for review.

"As you know, the government does not want to decide on the matter of construction in the territories for fear or an international reaction," Sasson sadly noted yesterday. "If my recommendations had been implemented, no government ministry would have dared to finance the laying of a single brick in the settlements, without the government having approved the construction, and the scale of construction and of the freeze would have been significantly reduced."

Sasson recalls that at the time of the report, some 3,000 demolition orders had piled up on the desk of then defense minister Shaul Mofaz, but in hardly any of them was an order to raze the structure actually issued. According to her, there is no value in enforcement efforts that are eventually halted in the political echelons.

"But this is after all the whole point, the government is interested in 'settling the land' and the story of the illegal construction helps it to portray itself as one who is not in control of the situation," she said. Her remarks are a voice in the wilderness. The Sharon and Olmert governments set up a toothless, special ministerial committee to review the recommendations of the outposts report and its implementation, but the Netanyahu government just buried it.

Whose man in Washington?

The impulsiveness of our ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, has once again caused grief to the senior diplomat in the world's most important capital.

A short time after he boycotted the conference of Israel lobby J Street, Oren had to apologize to Conservative Jewish leaders who challenged his account of the detention of Nofrat Frenkel. Frenkel was detained by police in Jerusalem, after she wore a prayer shawl and carried a Torah scroll in the women's section of the Western Wall plaza. Oren dismissed the accounts of Frenkel's detention and said she was simply "led away" from the area.

A few days ago, Jewish newspaper The Forward reported that the Israeli embassy in Washington announced that Oren was relying on an account from Jerusalem that turned out to be misreported.

The ambassador called the leaders of the Conservative movement and voiced to them his concern over the treatment of a member of their community in Jerusalem.

Someone at the Foreign Ministry ought to tell him that he once again stepped on a land mine. Even his patron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, could not promise that the next time Frenkel wraps herself in a prayer shawl and brings a Torah scroll into the Western Wall plaza she will not end up in jail.

A few days later Oren's impulsiveness got him into trouble yet again. In an interview with Razi Barkai on Army Radio, he claimed that his decision to stay away from the J Street conference and to refer to the new Jewish organization as "a unique problem" did not stem from an aversion to leftists.

The proof: He just agreed to meet with the heads of the American branch of Peace Now. His problem with J Street, the ambassador explained, stems from the fact that the organization welcomed the publication of the infamous Goldstone report. However, Americans for Peace Now actually urged members of Congress to vote against a bill denouncing the report, and J Street made do with calling for the language of the bill to be toned down.