The Security Cabinet approved a request by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday night for a 10-month construction freeze in Judea and Samaria.
In a statement released to the media, Netanyahu said he was making the proposal "as part of the efforts to give momentum to the peace talks with the Palestinian Authority" and to "advance Israel's comprehensive national interests."
The freeze includes a 10-month suspension of new residential construction permits and all new residential construction starts in Judea and Samaria, which could include peripheral areas around the capital as well. This also means construction as simple as building a fence around a yard, a balcony on the second floor of a home, an extension to the back of a house, or even a porch or pergola over the front steps - if it is carried out anywhere in Judea and Samaria.
It reportedly will not apply to construction that has already been authorized, nor is it to apply to work on community buildings that are intended to maintain "normal life" in the settlements. In addition, the freeze is reportedly not intended to apply to any part of the city of Jerusalem, including the eastern neighborhoods.
"In the international circumstances that have been created, this step will promote Israel's broad national interests," he told the cabinet at the start of the meeting. "This is neither simple nor easy, but it has many more advantages than disadvantages. It allows us to place a simple fact before the world: The government of Israel wants to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians, is taking practical steps in order to do so, and is very serious in its intentions to promote peace," he said.
Leaders of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are refusing to meet Thursday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who came out in support of Netanyahu's proposal. "The aim is to open a window to renew negotiations with the Palestinians," Barak said in justifying his position on the plan. "I hope the Council of Judea and Samaria Communities' leadership, which is patriotic, responsible and serious, will understand the need for this decision at this time," he added.
"The Defense Minister has been harrassing Jewish communities for a long time before the decision to freeze construction and, in order to slow the pace [of construction], things have gotten to the point that he even refuses to allow the building of classrooms and nurseries for toddlers," Council members said -- a fact that contradicts the claim that the freeze will not impact public buildings required to maintain "normal life" in the communities.
Council members pointed out, however, that "the address is the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu -- he is the one who made the decision on the freeze, he is the one who broke his election promise to the voters."
National Union Knesset members are furious over the prime minister's actions; party chairman MK Yaakov (Ketzaleh) Katz said Netanyahu is "spitting in the face of those who were promised only a year ago that he would lead a change from the expulsion policies of [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon." He called on Likud members to turn in their party membership cards and join the National Union instead.
MK Dr. Aryeh Eldad added bluntly, "The people of Judea and Samaria who were coaxed into voting for Prime Minister Netanyahu should tar and feather everyone who urged people to vote for the Likud."
His colleague MK Uri Ariel compared the proposed building freeze to the infamous British White Paper of 1939, which restricted Jewish immigration to Israel. "Malcolm MacDonald, author of the White Paper, can be proud. Seventy years after he published his anti-Semitic document, here comes the Israeli government and tries to follow in his footsteps," Ariel declared.