As thousands of Israelis planted trees on Monday to mark the Tu B’Shevat holiday, at least one ceremony took on political dimensions this year.
The main ceremony for the holiday, which is the traditional new year for trees, took place at Givat Massua in Jerusalem in the presence of President Ezer Weizman.
The theme of this year’s Jewish National fund free-planting activities was “Planting for Peace,” which has the goal of planting an estimated 300,000 trees.
At the West Bank settlement of Efrat, Economics Minister Shimon Shetreet attended a tree-planting ceremony at the site of a recent confrontation between settlers and Palestinians over a planned expansion of the settlement.
Shetreet planted a sapling on Givat Hazayit, where the Israeli government worked out a compromise to allow settlers to begin building apartments. The compromise came after local Palestinians protested construction plans at another nearby hilltop, Givat Hatamar, that the protesters claimed was on land belonging to their village.
Shetreet, a hawkish Labor minister who opposed the government compromise, said the settlements near Jerusalem should continue to be developed and remain under Israeli sovereignty.
The issue of settlements, slated to come up for negotiations no later than May 1996, has already become a hotly contested issue. Palestinians have argued that Israelis are trying to create facts on the ground by expanding West Bank settlements prior to those final-status negotiations.