Netanyahu's Settlement Panel Won't Limit Barak's Influence on West Bank Building

Premier proposes committee on settlement issues in bid to appease right-wing, settler leaders after cabinet struck down bill to regulate West Bank outposts built on private Palestinian land.

A move by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appease settlers, by seemingly mitigating Defense Minister Ehud Barak's pull on settlement matters, does not in fact reduce Barak's current influence, Haaretz learned on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu listed a number of measures he intended to take to bolster West Bank settlement activity, in an apparent attempt to ameliorate backlash over the cabinet's refusal to pass a bill to regulate illegal West Bank outposts.

Specifically, the PM promised that the Beit El settlement, of which Ulpana Hill is a neighborhood, will be expanded by 300 new homes.

In another measure, Netanyahu acceded to a long-standing settler demand by promising to divest Barak of the sole authority to approve or veto new construction in the settlements and transfer this authority to a ministerial committee.

Netanyahu is due to submit the committee's formation to the cabinet's approval on Sunday.

However, an examination of the details of that submission reveals that the defense minister's authority on West Bank issues remains untouched.

Stating the panel's official mandate, the proposal said that the committee would discuss unregulated settlement construction on state-owned and private lands in the West Bank, and form government policy on the matter; discuss government policy on principled issues surfacing in court appeals concerning the West Bank; discuss ongoing settlement matters, and anything the premier wishes to raise related to settlement issues.

The mandate's vague and general wording, especially that of the last clause, raises questions as to its de-facto jurisdiction. These doubts seem to be supported by the clarification attached to the proposal written by legal adviser to the Prime Minister's Office, Shulamit Barnea-Farago.

"The decision does not diminish the prime minister and defense minister's authority, as stated in government decisions, according to which the defense minister has the authority to approve construction and planning in the West Bank," Barnea-Farago wrote.

Barak did not voice his official position concerning the formation of the ministerial committee on settlements, with the proposal drafted ahead of Sunday's cabinet meetings stating that the defense minister has not yet conveyed his stance.

In addition, the proposal indicates that the panel provides an automatic majority to right-wing ministers.

Other than Netanyahu, Barak and Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, the panel will also include Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Minister Benny Begin, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, and Evironmetal Protection Minster Gilad Erdan.

Ehud Barak - Tomer Appelbaum - May 30, 2012.
Tomer Appelbaum
Ulpana Hill - Emil Salman - June 6, 2012
Emil Salman