Despite the construction freeze, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has given approval for the construction of 112 apartments in Beitar Illit. The radical post-Zionist Peace Now organization is up in arms.

At the same time, Barak is under fire from the other direction for insisting on applying the construction freeze even to the expellees of Gush Katif; see below.

Barak signed the approval last week, marking the first time in over three months that new housing has been allowed to begin in the Jewish towns of Judea and Samaria. In late November ’09, under heavy American pressure, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced a near-total freeze on Jewish construction in Yesha. The goal was to entice the Palestinian Authority back into direct negotiations with Israel – a goal which even now has not been achieved. Only this week has the PA agreed to four months of indirect “proximity talks,” defined as “diplomatic discussions between intermediaries, with the involved parties close by.”

The construction in Beitar Illit received a permit long ago, under the Olmert government, but foundations have not been laid, due to “infrastructure problems and safety issues.” For this reason, Barak granted the project an exemption from the freeze.

Beitar Illit, located just north of Gush Etzion and west of Bethlehem, is Judea and Samaria's 2nd-largest Jewish city, with over 37,000 residents.

Peace Now chairman Yariv Oppenheimer responded to the news immediately, saying, “Every construction permit in the territories makes it even harder to separate from the Palestinians; we are already in the last minute, and soon this [two-state] solution will no longer be relevant.”

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) castigated those who object to the construction: “Our own political opponents within Israel are trying to heat up tensions between us and the United States, which does not see a problem here… via tattling and all sorts of maligning.”

Barak: Gush Katif Expellees Cannot Build in Ariel

At the same time, Barak is under fire from Likud MK Danny Danon for insisting on applying the construction freeze even to the expellees of Gush Katif.

A large group of families from the destroyed town of Netzarim were to begin building their permanent homes in the Shomron (Samaria) city of Ariel. The Civil Administration, the Tnufah (Sela) Administration, Cabinet ministers and the Cabinet Secretary were all in favor of exempting the project from the construction freeze - but Barak decided on Sunday to ignore them all and extend the expellees' transience at least until the end of the current ten-month ban. The residents have been living in caravans since moving to Ariel over four years ago.

MK Danon has received permission to raise the matter in the Knesset on Tuesday, which could lead to a Knesset Committee debate on the issue - at which occasion Barak or his representatives will have to explain their decision.