Israel has approved the construction of 84 buildings in West Bank settlements, despite a 10-month moratorium on new building in the territories announced a week earlier by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, gave the official approval for the move after the political echelon authorized the list of buildings. It is possible that the decision was meant as a goodwill gesture, ahead of a meeting between Netanyahu and settler leaders.
Earlier that day Defense Minister Ehud Barak had invited settler leaders to meet with him urgently in a bid to lower tensions, amid a showdown between security forces and settlers over the construction freeze. Only two heads of West Bank regional councils showed for the meeting.
The invitation came after protesters blocked security forces from entering the community to enforce a construction freeze. Following the move, Israeli police arrested the mayor of the settlement of Beit Arieh.
On the afternoon of December 2, officials in Barak’s bureau phoned heads of West Bank regional councils, asking them to meet with the defense minister at his Tel Aviv office at 8 P.M. Among the officials invited were the mayor of Ma’ale Adumim, and the heads of the Alfei Menashe, Oranit and Givat Ze’ev regional councils.
The incident at Beit Arieh was the most serious case of settler unrest since Netanyahu announced the moratorium.
Settler leaders have vowed to defy the order, which Netanyahu says is meant as a confidence-building gesture to get peace efforts with the Palestinians back on track.
Settler spokesman Yishai Hollender said police apprehended the Beit Arieh mayor, Avi Naim, for disrupting a police officer in the line of duty.
He said Naim and a group of settlers blocked the entrance to their settlement in the central area of West Bank when troops arrived to hand out orders to cease construction at the site.
December 2 also marked the symbolic start of construction for a new synagogue in the enclave of Efrat. Senior officials in the Yesha council of West Bank settlements began pouring the concrete that will serve as its foundation.
The move was a gesture aimed at showing the public that settler leaders will not hesitate to defy government orders to halt construction.