Committee on Settlements Reduces Construction Projects

In its first session since it was formed earlier in the week, a ministerial committee appointed to deal with settlement expansion decided to reduce, but not halt entirely, privately financed construction in settlements near Jerusalem.

The committee on Wednesday approved the construction of 340 apartments in Givat Ze’ev, one of Jerusalem’s so-called satellite communities.

The committee also backed plans for the construction of an additional 800 apartments in Givat Ze’ev, but only inside the settlement’s existing borders and not on nearby lands that were slated for development.

The committee also authorized the sate of 800 apartments in Ma’aleh Adumim, another satellite settlement near Jerusalem, and approved the construction of 1,000 more during the next two years.

The ministers approved plans for building sone 900 apartments in Betar, another settlement, but said it would hold another discussion on the timing for construction there.

The committee also authorized the government construction of 50 housing units in the Jordan Valley.

Settlement leaders protested the decision. Members of the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza charged that the committee had frozen half of the construction that had been planned for this year in Givat Ze’ev and in Betar.

They also accused the government of misleading the Israeli public by approving construction already under way. Settlement leaders met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Wednesday, but were unable to persuade him to disband the ministerial committee.

In a decision adopted at Sunday’s weekly meeting, the Cabinet created the controversial committee, which includes Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Finance Minister Avraham Shohat, Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Justice Minister David Libai and Communications Minister Shulamit Aloni.

Although the other committee members were drawn from the ranks of Labor ministers, Aloni was the sole representative from the Meretz bloc, the government’s coalition partner that opposes all settlement expansion.

Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer recently announced an ambitious plan for building some 30,000 housing units in the Jerusalem area as well as in the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem

Both the creation of the ministerial committee itself and its first action were seen as attempts to reach a compromise between Ben-Eliezer’s plans and the left-wing Meretz ministers’ demand that all settlement activity be stopped.

Meanwhile, the left-wing Peace Now movement also expressed disappointment over the decisions reached by the ministerial committee. The group said it was wrong to approve further expansion in the territories, especially because the prime minister had just declared a need to separate Israelis and Palestinians because of terror attacks.

Meanwhile, the Knesset on Wednesday narrowly defeated a bill to include the satellite communities of Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev within Jerusalem’s boundaries. Chaos erupted after Yi’ud Knesset member Ester Salmovitz, who was presiding over the session, called for a vote before all the members of the governing coalition had arrived on the floor.

Parliamentarians attacked the rostrum, hurling insults and demanding another vote. Salmovitz denied that she had called the vote early in an attempt to improve the bill’s chances of passing.

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