Sunday’s Cabinet decision to strip Defense Minister Ehud Barak of some aspects of his unilateral authority regarding Jewish neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria is gratifying for the Land of Israel-loyal public.
The Cabinet decided to transfer responsibility for the World Zionist Organization Rural Settlement Division from the Agriculture Ministry to the Prime Minister's Office. Specifically, some issues that until now needed to be approved by the Defense Minister will now merely be decided "in coordination with the Defense Minister."
Judea and Samaria (Yesha) have not been annexed to Israel, and are still under military control – meaning that Defense Minister Barak has the final word on many decisions, including construction. He has long been considered a foe of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, because he has frequently used his authority to order the demolition of Jewish houses in Yesha, or simply to withhold his signature necessary for the approval of new construction.
A public campaign was initiated three months ago to have Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu dismiss Barak for his anti-settlement stance and the deteriorating security situation.
The latest decision is therefore "good news,” said Susie Dym, spokesperson for the grassroots Mattot Arim organization, “because the reason why peace in the Middle East has been thwarted for many years is because Jewish settlement has been regarded as the problem and not the solution. Now that Jewish settlement will be allowed to flower naturally in the Jewish homeland, only good things can result.”
Asked to explain her take on why this decision was taken at this time, Dym said, “We know that the people love Judea and Samaria, and elections are nearing, therefore it is natural that the second half of a government’s term will see developments that benefit the Land of Israel.”
Yesha historian and expert Haggai Huberman has a slightly different take on the matter. "The decision must be taken in proportion," he told Israel National News. "Barak still retains veto power over construction; this has not changed. But it’s good that the Settlement Division has been taken from the purview of the Labor Party-run Agriculture Ministry, and given over to [the Prime Minister's Office]."
Huberman said that the issues affected by the change involve day-to-day affairs of Jewish communities, neighborhoods and outposts in Yesha, such as relocating generators, security needs, and developing a core-group for a new settlement.
"By the way," Huberman added, "note that a few months ago, the Cabinet made a decision that neutralized Barak even more – and that he has the rights to order the demolition of a Jewish neighborhood only on land that it is private Arab property for certain, such as Migron. But if there are any doubts, as there are almost everywhere else, then he cannot do so. And even in Migron, he has already committed himself not to destroy anything there until the alternative site for the 43 families is ready."
Political analyst Dr. Aaron Lerner says that the decision is "representative of an important trend. Those who say that it has no meaning because Barak has other tools that he can play against Jewish settlement in Yesha are missing the point. It's like the peeling of an onion; we're talking about something that can't be changed entirely overnight."