While the government has frozen construction in settlements, it continues to nurture Israeli presence in the Palestinian territories. In its weekly meeting, the cabinet on Sunday approved a comprehensive plan to preserve heritage sites across the country. Following pressure from a number of ministers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added two sites to the plan: Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The ministers unanimously approved the plan, and after the vote Netanyahu said, "At a time of increasing globalization and superficiality, we are creating points to bring parents and children closer together, and bring the children closer to the people, the land and the Jewish and Zionist heritage.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting held in Tel Hai in the Upper Galilee on the anniversary of the Tel Hai battle, Netanyahu said earlier, "Our existence depends not only on the IDF or our economic resilience – it is anchored in our store of knowledge and the national sentiment that we will bestow upon the coming generations, in our ability to justify our connection to the land."
He said, "This week marks 90 years since the fall of Joseph Trumpeldor and his seven comrades at this spot, and today, we are approving a comprehensive plan - possibly the biggest plan to ever be authorized – which is meant to deal with the restoration and the thorough treatment of some 150 heritage sites across the country, by investing NIS 400 million ($106 million). We will create a 'historic path' from the Bible through the Second Temple along the history of the Jewish people, and alongside it a path of the 'Israeli experience', through which families from around the country will be able to learn about the heritage of our people."
Ministers in Tel Hai on Sunday (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
Netanyahu also referred to "Independence Hall" in Tel Aviv, where the establishment of the State of Israel was declared. "Everyone is well acquainted with Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv," he said, "There are festivals there, White Night, pubs and cafes. We welcome the fact that Tel Aviv is such a vibrant city, but many of the teens and youths are not familiar with a small hall on 16 Rothschild Boulevard, a hall that has started to peel and wear out, a hall in which the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared the establishment of the State of Israel. Restoration will begin there, and will reach the Galilee and the Negev. This is how our power as a people will be examined – by getting to know our past and the history of our people."
Netanyahu thanked Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser for leading the plans, alongside other plans to be approved by the cabinet on Sunday, including an imitative to restore the national library, which is to be located in Kiryat Hale'om in Jerusalem. Netanyahu announced that another cabinet meeting will be held later this week, during which a national plan on transportation is slated to be approved. The plan aims to link the Galilee panhandle and the rest of the periphery to central Israel.
Before the meeting Vice Premier and Minister of the Development of the Negev and Galilee Silvan Shalom slammed the proposed heritage plan: "A plan that does not include the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb is a lame plan." Other ministers, including minister from Shas, expressed a similar position, leading the prime minister to announce that "thanks to donations that were collected by the Jewish Agency and other donors, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb will also be included in the heritage plan."
Ministers gladly miss workday in Jerusalem
Several ministers were absent from the meeting, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Minister for Intelligence Affairs Dan Meridor, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias.
The rest of the ministers entered the compound in high spirits and appeared to have gladly missed another workday in Jerusalem in order to travel to the Galilee. Some were also expected to meet with their parties' activists in the north.
Most ministers avoided reporters' questions about the recent developments following the assassination of senior Hamas member Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz referred to the Israeli ambassadors' summoning by the British and Irish foreign ministers, saying that "it's all a storm in a teacup and this will be made clear soon."
Ministers enjoy klezmer show (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
Aharon Valenci, head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council, represented local council heads during the meeting. "We are the symbol of national strength," he said. "We, 15 council heads in the eastern Galilee, have come together to provide a future to the next generation and work together to achieve good conditions in order to develop the area… We trust that this meeting will not only result in promises, but in action as well."
Right: Significant accomplishment
Right-wing elements rushed to welcome the decision to add the controversial sites to the national heritage plan. "This is another symbol of the people of Israel's connection to these areas, which cannot be cut off," said Knesset Member Uri Ariel (National Union) during a tour of the Cave of the Patriarchs with the Land of Israel Lobby.
"One day additional areas, like Sebastia and Kfar Etzion, which were the beginning of the Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, will also become national heritage sites," he added.
The lobby's chairman, MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), added that the decision was "a wise one" and was implemented following the lobby's vigorous activity. "The prime minister accepted our perception and added two historic sites to the list, and we can only praise him for that."
Yesha Council Chairman Dannu Dayan added, "A morning which began with a struggle ended with a blessing. This is a significant historic accomplishment for the Jewish people."
The Yesha Council said in a statement, "If the plan's goal is to strengthen the connection with the land of our forefathers, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb are most worthy of topping the list."
Shmulik Grossman, Efrat Weiss and Roni Sofer contributed to this report