The Jerusalem Post
June 29, 2009 - 12:00am

Hours before Defense Minister Ehud Barak leaves for the United States, the Defense Ministry on Monday notified the High Court that in accordance with a 1996 government master plan for the construction of 1,450 housing units in a new neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Adam, the ministry has at this stage approved only 190 units, of which 50 have received final approval.

These 50 units are intended to house the settlers expected to be evacuated from the unauthorized Migron outpost, near Ramallah.

"The understandings were approved by senior government officials, Yesha Council representatives, and West Bank settler leaders," the ministry wrote in the statement issued to the court.

The timing of the notification, hours before Barak leaves for the US, could complicate the defense minister's goal to reach an understanding on the issue of settlement construction with US Mideast envoy George Mitchell, whom he is expected to meet in New York later Monday.

Eitan Baroshi, the defense minister's assistant for settlement affairs, explained that relocating Migron settlers to Adam would be the most desirable solution for the future evacuees, and that it was never stated that the Migron residents would be removed to a locale within the Green Line.

Speaking on Israel Radio, Baroshi had stressed that if the court would approve the proposed 50-unit expansion, the ruling would bind the residents of Migron.

Baroshi also refuted claims that Barak was accelerating settlement construction while facetiously attempting to reach understandings with the Obama administration on the subject, quoting a report by the Central Bureau of Statistics that showed a 40-percent drop in new apartment unit starts in the West Bank compared to 2008.

The government will evacuate illegal outposts, Baroshi told Israel Radio, but it is better to do so in the context of an agreement.

Politicians from both the Right and Left criticized the Defense Ministry's plan.

"Exposing the approval of 1,450 housing units in Adam invalidates Barak's visit to the United States, and it would be better if he spared himself the disgrace," MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) said in a statement.

The decision proves that "the Defense Ministry is not taking its job seriously, as it has not yet evacuated Migron and is already building in Adam for virtual evacuees from the very same Migron," the statement added.

Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer saw the report as confirming that all 1,450 units had received final governmental approval.

"The Israeli bluffing system is setting new records," he said. "Instead of evacuating an illegal outpost of 40 housing units, Barak is awarding outlaws with an approval to build a future settlement of 1,450 housing units east of the [Green Line]. Barak is proving to settler leadership that violence and creating illegal outposts pay off."

MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) called on Migron residents to oppose the Defense Ministry's plan that they move into housing units in Adam.

When it comes to the government's intention to dismantle small settlements, compromises are out of the question, Ben-Ari said.

Minister Avishai Braverman, however, lauded the plan, saying that transferring residents of outposts into larger settlements would "improve Israel's opening position in negotiations" for a two-state solution.


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