Netanyahu: Settlement Freeze Is Not Evacuation

PM: Freeze hard, but necessary, proves Israel wants peace; report: Settlers suspected of torching Palestinian home.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the cabinet's decision to enforce a 10-month freeze on activity in West Bank settlements was by no means an attempt to evacuate or dismantle existing communities.

"There are some who might say that we're going to dismantle the settlements in Judea and Samaria, and that we should thus dismantle the Likud, but you must understand that the intention is exactly the opposite, and that's why unity in the Likud is so important," the prime minister told members of his Likud faction.

His remarks came in the wake of opposition from party members regarding the cabinet's decision to halt construction, in accordance with international demands.

"This is a very difficult step, difficult for me and for all the Likud ministers," Netanyahu told party members. "But the bottom line is that it is a one-time step, for a limited time, and it will protect many of Israel's interests."

Earlier, Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that the freeze proves Israel wants peace. His remarks came after Palestinians rejected the move as inadequate.

"The decision serves wide interests of the State of Israel, and it is clear who wants peace and who rejects peace," Netanyahu said. "The state of Israel wants peace in the clearest possible fashion."

The Palestinians say his offer is not genuine since it does not include east Jerusalem, which they want as the capital of a future state, or 3,000 housing units under construction. They refuse to resume talks until Israel halts all construction.

The cabinet session coincided with clashes in the West Bank between settlers and Israeli inspectors seeking to enforce the moratorium. Click here to see footage of the confrontation.

During the meeting, Netanyahu said of the settlers that, "These are our brothers; they're a part of us, and we're a part of them."

He added: "The decision represents difficulties that we have discussed with the citizens themselves; there are difficulties that are part of the decision, but there are also difficulties that are redundant."

The premier noted that he had set up a task force last week to draw up measures to ease life for settlers during the moratorium.

Meanwhile, defense officials believe settlers were behind the torching of a Palestinian home and two vehicles in the West Bank early Sunday, Army Radio reported, in an apparent attempt to avenge the construction freeze.

According to the report, Israeli security forces subsequently searched the area near the home, close to Nablus.

Settlers, rightist MKs hold emergency talks on thwarting freeze

On Saturday, about 200 people led by the chairman of the Yesha council of settlements, Danny Dayan, and MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Uri Ariel convened an emergency meeting in the West Bank settlement of Ofra to discuss tactics to thwart the moratorium.

The chairman of the Binyamin regional council suggested, among other things, that "everyone begin building. Add a shed, and make it white so that the satellites will pick it up. Build new structures, for B'nei Akiva, for whatever, build them far from the gates so that it will take the inspectors a long time to reach them."

The government has recently deployed dozens of new inspectors to the West Bank in efforts to enforce the freeze, and has taken satellite photos of the region in order to compare with later images and pick out new structures built in violation of the freeze.

The Binyamin regional council head added that "construction should be carried out on a hill, so that the tractors won't be able to demolish them, and they will have to be demolished by hand. Everyone should participate in the construction. We don't want a situation where only one person is building, making it easier [for the authorities] to pick on them."

During the meeting, the Binyamin settler council handed out pamphlets with further suggestions on how to fight the freeze, including legal, political and media tactics. The council also suggested that the settlers refrain from reporting to Israel Defense Forces reserve duty for as long as the freeze is in effect, and to prevent new recruits from enlisting to mandatory service during that time.

Dayan commented on these tactics, objecting to the use of IDF service in the protest efforts. "We don't deserve a double punishment: not to be able to protect the residents of Sderot as IDF soldiers, as well as a construction freeze.

"There are people who say that we are violating the law," he continued. "To them I say: We will disobey the order, we have a moral duty to do so. This is so anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist that we are willing to pay the price. There are orders that we will disobey."