Welfare Minister Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) hit out at the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria on Saturday, saying that “isolated settlements should be dismantled right now, without waiting for peace negotiations."
Speaking at a cultural event in Holon, Cohen said, "These settlements cost us a lot of money and we can definitely partially dismantle them right now. Everything must be done to ensure that we are not thought of as doing everything possible to avoid negotiations. We must come to the negotiating table and to strive for peace.”
Attacking the residents of Judea and Samaria, Cohen charged, "Israel has lost control over the settlers, especially the hilltop youth. We’ve lost control of the settlers in some cases. We need take care of the youths, bring them back to normativeness."
He referred to the status of Jerusalem during future negotiations, saying, "Jerusalem must be united forever. We do not give up on the heart of the consensus. Jerusalem is indisputable as far as I’m concerned."
Israeli negotiators should insist that eastern Jerusalem should be a part of Israel no matter what, said Minister Cohen. “For my part, I am not splitting Jerusalem. A Palestinian state will be established, it's just a matter of time, but I object to announcing what we are prepared to give up starting negotiations.”
Responding to Cohen’s comments, MK Orit Struk (Bayit Yehudi) pointed out that Israel has already paid billions for “the adventures of the left”, as she put it.
"It is unfortunate that the Welfare Minister chooses to examine the question of the settlements through the hole in the grush (referring to a coin with a hole with it used during the British Mandate –ed.), but if this is the test he presents, it is important that he know that until today, the State of Israel has paid tens of billions of shekels because of the left’s adventures, while the cost of his proposal - the evacuation of isolated settlements – is estimated at hundreds of billions of shekels,” said Struk.
"It's time for more responsible behavior regarding Judea and Samaria, not only in economic terms, but also in terms of security and in particular in terms of values,” she added.
The head of Cohen’s party, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, gave an interview to the New York Times this past week in which he said that that Israel should not change its policy on Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria in order to revive the stalemated peace process, and that Jerusalem should not serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Lapid said he would not stop the so-called “natural expansion” of the Jewish communities, nor curtail the financial incentives offered to Israelis to move there. He said that eastern Jerusalem, liberated by Israel in the Six Day War, must stay Israeli, because “we didn’t come here for nothing.”
He said that tens of thousands of Jews would someday be uprooted from what he described as “remote settlements," but that this problem should be set aside for now. He advocated the immediate creation of an interim Palestinian state in parts of Judea and Samaria where no Jews live, with final borders drawn in perhaps three, four or five years.
Lapid told a meeting of his party this week that he does not plan on “falling into the classic trap of the left, which at the beginning of negotiations reveals immediately what it plans to give away – a situation that turns what is supposed to be the end of the negotiation process into the beginning. You don't come to negotiations with just an olive branch in your hand.”
“We are looking for a fair divorce from the Palestinians,” he said.
Meanwhile, Channel 2 News reported on Friday that Lapid will allocate 50 million shekels for the budget of the Ariel University in Samaria over the next year and a half. Lapid’s decision was made despite opposition by officials in the Finance Ministry, the report said.
According to Channel 2, Lapid has ordered that 20 million shekels be transferred this year and an additional 30 million shekels next year.
Lapid’s move was made despite opposition by the chair of the Council of Higher Education's Planning and Finance Committee, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, and by officials in the Treasury.