JERUSALEM (Jul. 29)
Jewish settlement leaders emerged from a meeting this week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing satisfaction that the new leadership would be more supportive of their interests than the previous Labor-led government.
During Monday’s meeting, the leadership of the Yesha Council, which represents settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, presented Netanyahu with three principle requests:
that new settlements be established;
that existing ones be expanded;
and that families be allowed to move into settlement homes and apartments that are currently empty.
Netanyahu made no commitments regarding his settlement policies during the meeting.
But settler leaders later said that they thought that it was clear that the Netanyahu government would not follow in the footsteps of the previous Labor government, which adopted a freeze on settlement building and which purposely left some 3,000 homes and apartments empty to prevent settlement expansion.
“We haven’t had a meeting like this with a prime minister in four years,” said council spokesman Yechiel Leiter.
“The prime minister is enthusiastic about the things we have done in Judea and Samaria and is committed to the growth and development there.”
Also Monday, National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the construction of two new roads in the West Bank that would run through areas administered by the Palestinian Authority.
The two projects involve an expenditure of some $57 million.
One of the roads will link Atarot, located north of Jerusalem, to the heart of the capital. The second will be an extension of the Trans-Samaria Highway.
Former Housing Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer criticized the Trans-Samaria project, saying that it would divert funds that could be used to build essential traffic arteries in the jammed center of the country.
But he welcomed the Atarot road, saying that it was part of the construction program he had developed for the previous government.
The Peace Now group objected to both projects, saying that they were politically motivated and could sabotage the peace process.