Head to Head / Are Ma'aleh Adumim Units Worth the Diplomatic Damage?

An interview with chairman of the Judea and Samaria branch of the Likud party Shevah Stern.

Shevah Stern, a resident of the settlement of Shiloh, is chairman of the Judea and Samaria branch of the Likud party. In recent days, he and other activists have launched a campaign featuring quotes from cabinet ministers who are asking the prime minister to support construction in the northern West Bank.

You have started a campaign in which you quote ministers who call on Benjamin Netanyahu to build in the settlements. However, the Central Bureau of Statistics has issued data showing construction of 400 new housing units. Are you satisfied with this?

stern - Daniel Bar-On - March 7 2011
Daniel Bar-On

I'm not satisfied with the scope of the construction. Under the previous governments, all of the previous governments, the scope of construction was about 4,000 housing units [per year], not including that in Jerusalem ... I live in Judea and Samaria. So 400 housing units [since the end of the freeze] is a negligible amount. It's much more than during a freeze, but it doesn't point to significant building. I want to distinguish between the places where there is building and where there isn't. There is private building in small settlements, but in towns like Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim, there have to be government tenders for construction and there aren't any.

The prime minister said last week at the Likud faction meeting that he has responsibility for the entire country, and we shouldn't "keep banging our heads against the wall." What is your response to this?

Particularly because he has responsibility for the entire country, we have to care about strengthening the settlement [enterprise]. As he has said tens if not hundreds of times, [the settlements] guard the country's security, and prevent Judea and Samaria from becoming one big base for terrorists. The more Jews there are here, the easier it will be to guard the coastal plain, and Jerusalem will become powerful and bigger.

Perhaps he said such things in the past, but I understood from his comments before the Likud that in the current international reality, building in the northern West Bank would cause heavy diplomatic damage. Is such damage worth another 1,000 residents in Ma'aleh Adumim?

I don't believe in that kind of thinking. At the end of the freeze, there was great pressure to renew moratorium. And when it ended we found that the sky hadn't fallen. The Americans understood that they had made a mistake in pressuring Israel and that from their point of view, this was not what had disrupted the political process with the Palestinians.

The Americans understand that Israel is a stable asset in the region. Not everything that is described in our media as unbearable pressure [is really so unbearable]. What we are talking about in general is construction of the scope that took place under previous governments. I have children, as do other people, who want to live in the settlements. There are settlements where there is a housing shortage. The settlements in Judea and Samaria in the past met the demand for new housing for young couples because the land is cheaper here than in Petah Tikva. There is accessibility to Jerusalem and the center of the country, and there is a naturally high demand.

In effect, your campaign says that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not delivering the goods. On the other hand, you've been a member of Likud for more than 20 years. Maybe Yaakov Katz of the National Union is right: There is no point for people with opinions like yours to vote Likud - you should vote for smaller parties.

The smaller parties don't have an influence on the government even if they are in the coalition. The only way to wield influence is via the big parties. The general public in the Likud supports settlement in Judea and Samaria unambiguously. They consider it a national, historic and legal right. They also consider it a security necessity. However, sometimes the leadership, because of pressure from the media, because of coalition considerations, for other whims, does not always understand, or want to understand, what the greater Likud public wants. Today a big majority of the Knesset members and the ministers from the Likud support the renewal of construction in the towns [in Judea and Samaria].

But they have no influence. Fact: There is no construction.

It does work. The directive for a freeze has been stopped. There are other things that work. I canvas people to join Likud and tell them: At least we are carrying on a struggle by democratic means that can have an influence. I say: Join, you can have an influence. We won't always succeed but at least we'll try.

You live in Shiloh, and Peace Now has petitioned the High Court of Justice to stop the building of 20 housing units in neighboring Shvut Rachel that are being built without permits. Do you think that because of the housing shortage, it is right to build without a permit?

When a person in the city hears that there building without a permit, they think that it is the Wild West here and people do what they like. I want to declare that in almost all cases, these are places where they have received all the required approval but the defense minister is not signing all the permits. In Petah Tikva, no one would dare not to sign building permits. In the settlements, the defense minister, out of political considerations, prevents it, and the prime minister does not do anything about it. It would be possible to solve all these problems if the prime minister were to instruct the defense minister to sign construction permits.

Why is it legitimate to live in Shvut Rachel for political and ideological reasons, but not legitimate to try to prevent people from living there for political and ideological reasons?

The right to live is a basic right and people have the right to choose to live wherever they want in the land of the Jewish people. And this is not occupied territory. The rights [to live there] were recognized by all the governments of Israel and permission for this was given in the past. This government, too, which issued the freeze order, did not extend it. The person who is acting against the revocation of the order is the defense minister, not the settlers. They are expanding the settlements with permission. In a formal sense, the defense minister is exploiting his power and trying to prevent this. We are fighting in public ways to prevent him from doing this.

It was a stormy week in the wake of the evacuation of Havat Gilad. In your opinion, does that event have strategic implications for the relationship between the settlers and the police, or with the army?

I have five sons and four served in combat units. We are the army. No one can come and teach us to act against the army. What happened [at Havat Gilad] was a shameful and disgraceful act, in which the defense minister exploited his power - they took two buildings and brought in a huge army of hundreds of policemen and people from special units whose aim was to break bones and not uphold the law. I consider the prime minister responsible for the shooting that took place. If he says it was done without his knowledge, then he must take the person who did a thing like that and throw him out of his government.