'It's Natural for Barak to Join a Rightist Government'

If Laborites find fault with their leader's reliability, how can foreigners be expected to believe the defense minister?

MK Ophir Pines-Paz recalls his meeting with Ehud Barak, in the middle of last November, well. The Labor Party chairman was concerned about reports that Pines-Paz was considering joining the new leftist movement that had formed around Meretz. Pines-Paz, on the other hand, was concerned about rumors concerning Barak's love affair with Benjamin Netanyahu. However, he was unable to extract from Barak a promise that Labor would under no circumstances join a Netanyahu government.

Even though he was still tending to his wounds from Barak's previous "personal" commitment to leave the government once the final Winograd report (examining the conduct of the Second Lebanon War) was published, Pines-Paz made do with a personal assurance that "Labor will not sit in a government that will not lead a peace process." To eradicate any remaining doubt, Barak announced at the Labor Party convention a few days later that "Labor will not join a government whose basic guidelines contradict its principles."

Any remaining doubts Pines-Paz may have harbored about Barak and his principles have now been dispelled, especially after he read Monday's report in Haaretz that the defense minister decided to approve a new settlement (Sansana) and refused to uphold a court order to dismantle houses built on stolen land in the Ofra settlement.

"It is completely natural for Barak to want to join the Bibi-Lieberman government," said Pines-Paz, the only MK who left Ehud Olmert's government after Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman joined it. "He doesn't have a problem with their ideology. Perhaps you can remind me how many outposts Barak has evacuated so far and how exactly he abided by the Talia Sasson report [on settlement construction]?" (Last week marked four years since the government's decision to appoint a ministerial committee to recommend steps to implement the report within 90 days.)

If his party colleagues, including Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel and Pines-Paz, find fault with their leader's reliability, how can foreigners be expected to believe the defense minister? If he doesn't have a qualms about misleading his political partners , why should he have a problem spreading fabrications about the Palestinian (no) partners?

Barak's deceptive conduct casts a different light on the Rashomon-like reports surrounding his negotiations, while prime minister, with the Syrians and the Palestinians. Why should we prefer Barak's version, according to which he dragged Yasser Arafat to Camp David "in order to reveal his true face," over the version of three senior intelligence officials who said they had warned Barak that there was no chance Arafat would be satisfied with his "generous offer"? And why should we believe Barak that Hafez Assad should be blamed for the failure of the negotiations with Syria and cast doubts on the accounts of the three American mediators, who allege that Barak was the one who got cold feet?

Perhaps it is fitting that research conducted by Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal and Dr. Eran Halperin has found that Barak's no-partner version has become the right's major asset.

Two banks to the settlement

The phenomenon of settlements has over the years begotten a plethora of urban inventions and legal tricks, but the story of the Nof Hasharon settlement nevertheless deserves first prize for Israbluff. The establishment of the new West Bank settlement was approved four years ago, many long months after the government of Ariel Sharon had committed itself to a complete settlement freeze.

What to do? One solution would be to declare Nof Hasharon a new neighborhood of the Alfei Menashe settlement - a tried and tested system to launder new settlements. But this time the entrepreneurs and their yes-men in the establishment went a little too far. Nof Hasharon is five kilometers away from Alfei Menashe. Moreover, the separation fence twice crosses the area that divides the "new neighborhood" from its so-called mother-settlement. Who wants to send his children to a kindergarten on the other side of the fence, not to mention the cost of the infrastructure and the services?

A creative solution was found on the western side of the Green Line, in the community of Nirit. While Nof Hasharon's 50 households received building permits from the Alfei Menashe local council, which is subordinate to the Civil Administration, and voted in the settlement's polling booths, their infrastructure and educational services were connected to those of Nirit, which is located in the South Sharon regional council's judicial area. Nof Hasharon residents pay arnona (municipal tax) to the Alfei Menashe council inside the occupied territories; the taxes are then transferred to the South Sharon council, which is under Israeli sovereignty.

Recently, Alfei Menashe council head Hisdai Eliezer and his colleague Motti Delajo, the head of the South Sharon regional council, decided to expedite matters. From now on, Nof Hasharon residents will vote in Samaria and pay taxes to the South Sharon regional council. Delajo explained that the agreement on municipal tax refers only to those services the council grants to Nof Hasharon. He confirmed that to the best of his knowledge, the settlement's 50 families are accountable to the Alfei Menashe council regarding planning and building laws, but get their services from his regional council.

A petition by the residents of Nirit to the High Court of Justice, protesting the forced match, was rejected five years ago. MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), who represented them, says the South Sharon regional council's agreement to collect municipal taxes from the settlement's residents is tantamount to establishing [new] state borders behind the Knesset's back, creating a situation whereby a community is subject both to the Civil Administration's planning and building laws and to another administrative system within Israel.

Amira Bahat, a veteran Nirit resident, claims the state has in effect annexed the settlement to her community. A neighbor who preferred to remain anonymous said that the residents of Nof Hasharon were for the most part naive people, unaware of the fact that they are settlers.