Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
January 26, 2010 - 1:00am

Monday morning, as George Mitchell was on the way home from another diplomatic mission short on breakthroughs, Saeb Erekat did not sound dismayed. On the contrary, the head of the Palestinian negotiation team vehemently argued that the American envoy's last visit actually moved up the moment of truth for the White House.

The veteran adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's favorite move of throwing the ball into the Palestinians' court stopped working with the Americans.

They are patiently waiting for the prime minister's answer to two questions: First, is he ready for the negotiations to pick up where they left off at the end of the former prime minister Ehud Olmert's term? Second, does he accept the principle that the territory transferred to a Palestinian state will be the same size as the territory captured by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza during the Six-Day War.

The international community's patience, Erekat concluded, is wearing thin.

Erekat is not alone in his thinking. Over the weekend, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed at Israel as not only the one responsible for the stagnation in the diplomatic process, but also for the thawing of the freeze on construction in the settlements.

Two months after the government decision on November 26 to freeze construction in Jewish settlements for 10 months, you'd have to be blind, an idiot, or a member of the Yesha Council of settlements to use the term "freeze" to describe the real estate situation in Judea and Samaria.

Two days ago, when Netanyahu planted a tree in Gush Etzion, he promised to place many more trees in the Ariel bloc as well, which is 20 kilometers east of the Green Line. In the case of Ariel, Netanyahu kept his word even before he gave it; as he was speaking yellow bulldozers were feverishly working on a new site for Ariel's industrial zone.

The Civil Administration confirmed that the freeze also applied to industrial and commercial zones, and that surveys conducted last week in the Ariel region found several violations of the freeze order and an injunction to halt the construction was even issued. So what?

As mentioned, two days ago Haaretz documented bulldozers at work there (and also in the Barkan industrial zone). The Civil Administration spokesman explained that "the enforcement efforts and issuing of injunctions is done in accordance with all the relevant considerations and priorities."

It seems that the freeze on the construction of new industrial zones in national priority zones of the government in the heart of the West Bank is not at the top of the defense minister's list of priorities. He apparently was busy upgrading the status of Ariel University Center of Samaria.

Netanyahu's colleagues will probably explain to the Americans that besides for the settlers, factories also experience natural growth.

Who's getting called into the office

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud), who has acquired a reputation as a moderate politician (he was even invited to speak at the most recent memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin), has his priorities.

The day after remarks by Ram Cohen, the principal of the Tel Aviv Ironi Alef high school, to the effect that an army must defend borders and not "the accursed occupation" were published, Sa'ar came out sharply against the principal's "preaching" in the Knesset and in the media.

The district supervisor, Dalit Shtauber, was instructed to summon Cohen for a thorough clarification.

Two weeks ago, this column published extensive quotes from an article Rabbi Yisrael Rosen published in weekly Torah pamphlet, "Shabbat Beshabbato" which is supported by the Education Ministry and distributed in hundreds of synagogues.

Rosen wrote that the time has come "'to declare war' ... on Israeli Arabs... who are not loyal to the state ... and to designate them as 'enemies.'"

He called for their removal from main traffic arteries and for their right to vote for and be elected to the Knesset to be taken away.

"His brothers" on the Jewish left and some High Court of Justice judges, who identify with them, were also referred to as "enemies."

The day after the article appeared, I asked the ministry if the taxpayers, including Israeli Arabs and also "enemy brothers" will continue funding the printing of the pamphlet that incites against them.

The response of the Education Ministry's spokesman, Hagit Cohen, arrived Monday.

She stated that following Haaretz's query, the ministry's director general asked Rabbi Rosen for clarification. In a letter to the director general, Rabbi Rosen explained that he appreciates the contribution of loyal Arab Israelis to the state and primarily those among them who volunteer to do military and national service.

The rabbi added that his remarks should have been worded more appropriately and that "as one educated in the centrist stream of religious Zionism, I would not want to collectively tarnish anyone's reputation based on nationality or ethnic origin."

In Sa'ar's defense, it may be said that while right-wing Knesset members made a big fuss about Cohen's remarks, in the case of Rosen, the Labor and Meretz party members did not trouble the minister.

Shalom didn't do it

A thorough review of the case of the appointment of Alon Pinkas as ambassador to the UN found that even though Silvan Shalom has an account to settle with Pinkas dating from their time in the foreign minister's bureau, the Likud members' petition against the appointment is not connected to Shalom's vow to get back at the former consul general in New York.

You could say that Shalom's work was done by others; the prime minister has reasonable cause to oppose the favored candidate of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. It has nothing to do with the relationship between Netanyahu and businessman Sheldon Adelson and his free newspaper, Israel Hayom. Given the embarrassing humiliation of the Turkish ambassador, it is regrettable that no one upheld Shalom's old vow to stop Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.


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