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Critical Vote Near: Shas Won't Let Nationalists Meet Rav Yosef

Very high tensions in Land of Israel camp, as fateful vote on the future of Judea and Samaria nears.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 11/18/2010, 12:20 PM / Last Update: 11/18/2010, 2:27 PM

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Tensions are very high in the Land of Israel camp, as the day of the fateful vote on the future of Judea and Samaria nears. Nationalists say they are not being allowed to meet with Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, who will determine whether and how the Shas party ministers will vote.

It is feared that a vote to again freeze construction in Judea and Samaria would be the first step along the road towards the end of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, leaving over 100,000 Jews homeless.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, having recently returned from an official visit to Washington, D.C., is seeking to hold a Cabinet vote on the Obama administration’s demand for another freeze on Jewish construction, this time for three months. During this period, the New York Times reports, Israel and the Palestinian Authority “would aim for a swift agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state. That would make the long dispute over settlements irrelevant since it would be clear which housing blocs fell into Israel and which fell into a Palestinian state." 

No Israeli government has ever agreed to discuss the borders of a final agreement without ensuring that all other issues – such as Jerusalem, the refugees, water rights, and demilitarization – are agreed upon at the same time. Delineating final borders beforehand, many fear, would not only make the other issues irrelevant, as the PA could easily declare a state unilaterally, but would place the tens of thousands of Jews living in areas that might be designated for the PA in an untenable situation.

The vote hinges, it appears, upon the votes of Shas party ministers Eli Yishai and Ariel Attias. They appear likely to abstain, giving Netanyahu a majority for his freeze proposal. The only man who can change their minds and have them vote against is Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef.

Yaalon Can't Get in to See Rabbi Yosef
Cabinet Minister Moshe Yaalon, who strongly objects to the freeze, has tried to gain an audience with Rabbi Yosef – but has been turned down. The same is true for other nationalist camp leaders – and MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) blames Minister Yishai. “Yishai decides who enters Rabbi Yosef’s house and who doesn’t,” Ben-Ari said on Thursday. “Yishai wants to abstain; he wants a freeze.”

Yishai, for his part, said that Rabbi Yosef decides on his own whom he will meet. Yishai has said that in exchange for not voting against the freeze, he demands three conditions: An immediate end to the de-facto freeze in Jerusalem and massive construction throughout the capital, with American consent; an American guarantee that there will be no further freezes; and tenders at the end of the three months for construction in Beitar Illit, Kiryat Sefer, and several other locations.

Fax the Ministers!
The grassroots Mattot Arim organization has called on the public to call, fax or email not only the Shas ministers, but also Ministers Gideon Saar and Yuval Steinitz, who are believed to be seriously considering voting in favor of the freeze. These ministers are thus “conveniently forgetting everything they promised the public before the elections,” the organization says.

Meanwhile, IDF Army Radio reports that as of this morning, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have failed in their night-long attempts to convince Shas to abstain – apparently because at least one of the conditions that Yishai listed cannot be fulfilled.

Pressure has been brought to bear upon the Jewish Home party, or what used to be the National Religious Party, to quit the government if the freeze is approved. Party leader Daniel Herskovitz has rebuffed the calls from “Marzel and his gang,” but has said that if the freeze is approved, “we will view ourselves as free of all coalition obligations, and we will have to review the situation to see if resigning from the government will advance our interests or harm them."