Barak to authorize 500 housing units in settlements
Israel's plan to build up settlements before moratorium on building put in place is underway. Defense minister slated to authorize building of 450 to 500 housing units in the coming day. Building said to be concentrated in six or seven settlements in larger blocs.
"We are on the brink of a sensitive and important period. The security-related challenges have not gone away, and we are committed to safeguard Israel's existential security interests in the face of any threat," Barak told a group of bereaved families in Herzliya.
"It is our duty to support the American initiative aimed at resolving (the Mideast conflict). This agreement will include components of normalization of ties with the moderate elements of the Arab world, and will also provide a tailwind for a significant process with the Palestinians, and, in the future, with the Syrians as well," said the defense minister, "This is in Israel's interest."
As for the dispute with the US over Washington's demand that Israel halt all construction in the West Bank, Barak said, "I am convinced we can overcome it and jumpstart a process that will lead to the establishment of two states for two people."
Netanyahu decided to give the go ahead to hundreds of housing units before bending to international pressure to put a moratorium on settlement building. Officials in Barak's office said that the units that will be up for authorization are located in larger settlement blocs and focus around six or seven towns. This move is being made prior to the Thursday arrival of US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell in Israel.
According to the law, the defense minister is the sovereign ruler of West Bank territories. As such, Barak must be a signatory on the building authorizations. The US, Europe, and the international community do not support this step, and world response still remains unclear.
The prime minister apparently is not expected to raise the issue of freezing settlement building in the cabinet meeting prior to his trip to the UN General Assembly session in New York later this month, according to a memorandum from Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser.
During a meeting of the Likud cabinet members, Netanyahu estimated that an agreement on a building freeze will already be reached with the US this week. Netanyahu made it clear to the ministers that construction on public buildings will continue and expressed his willingness to renew talks with the Palestinians.
Ministers present in the meeting said that there will not be a total freeze on settlement building, but merely a reduction according to certain parameters.