Construction in settlement blocs in the West Bank, which has been suspended by the government, is set to be resumed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, on Monday.
The conversation between the two could prove to have a crucial effect on Shas' decision whether or not to stay in the coalition.
The haredi party has been facing tremendous pressure from its electorate over the freeze in construction in the settlement blocs, which constitute an important share of the housing market for the ultra-Orthodox public.
Some 5,000 housing units are required every year for the haredi public, most of them located in the settlement blocs in Beitar Illit and in neighborhoods like Givat Ze'ev and Neveh Ya'akov in Jerusalem.
The Shas faction held a special meeting Monday at the Beitar Illit municipality building in light of the freeze in the construction in the area over the past year and the delay in building new housing units in the city.
Mayor Meir Rubinstein told the Shas Knesset members, "The city has been in a state of freeze for 15 months now. Not one apartment was marketed in 2007. We are talking about irreversible damage to the haredi public, 10% of which wants to live in this community.
"We have already lost the 600-700 apartment which should have been marketed last year. It's time to say enough," Rubinstein pleaded. "We have appealed to all the government members, but our hopes hang on the Shas faction only."
Party chairman, Minister Eli Yishai, assured the meeting attendees that he had also spoken to the prime minister, who promised him that the construction in the settlement blocs would not be halted.
After the meeting, the Shas faction members and the municipality officials toured the frozen construction areas in the community. During the tour, Yishai stressed the importance in continuing the construction works in the settlement blocs.
Shas: Olmert announcement an achievement
Prime Minister Olmert said Monday during a Kadima faction meeting, "I don’t need to declare every other day that neighborhoods in Jerusalem will continue to be built. All the reports on dramatic construction campaigns in the territories are untrue, and it is not true that our building contradicts promises made.
"We are not building new settlements and are not confiscating lands for new settlements, but Beitar Illit, for example, is not a new settlement. Everyone should understand this, and these things have never been concealed. They are part of the negotiations, which will continue to move forward.
The report of Olmert's announcement was received during the Shas tour of Beitar Illit and was presented as a party achievement. Minister Yishai read the announcement out loud and was applauded by the tour's participants.
Mayor Rubinstein said, "I assumed to begin with that Shas can deliver the goods. We saw it in Givat Ze'ev, and, God Willing, we will see it in Beitar Illit as well."
The Knesset was expected to vote Monday on a no-confidence motion presented by the United Torah Judaism faction against the government on the backdrop of the construction freeze in the settlement blocs in general, and in Beitar Illit in particular.
Asked how Shas would vote, Minister Yishai called on United Torah Judaism to withdraw the motion in light of Olmert's promise. He also called on the faction to join the coalition.
"We are already being accused of achieving more than the Labor Party with 12 MKs. When United Torah Judaism enters, we will be 18 and will achieve more," he said.
In the beginning of the month, Ynet reported that the Defense Ministry had offered settler leaders to evacuate illegal outposts in exchange for resuming the construction works in the settlement blocs.
Ynet learned that as part of the deal, the State will evacuate in the coming months 18 of the 24 illegal outposts, which were built after 2001. in return, new housing units will be built in Gush Etzion, Ma'aleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Ariel, Elkana and Efrat.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report