Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) on Sunday praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to establish a ministerial committee for settlement-related issues.
The Cabinet approved the formation of the Ministerial Committee on Settlement Affairs, widely seen as designed to appease settlers and right-wing lawmakers who wished to limit Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s influence on settlements, on Sunday morning.
The initiative for the committee gathered pace in recent weeks as the government grappled with the issue of the Supreme Court-ordered demolition of five buildings constructed on privately owned Palestinian land in the Givat Ulpana neighborhood of the settlement of Beit El. The buildings must be demolished by July 1, the court ruled.
Among the ministers who voted against the committee were Barak and Shalom Simhon (Independence), Kadima’s Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, and Likud Minister Michael Eitan. Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) and Sofa Landver, Stas Misezhnikov and Yitzhak Aharonovitch (all of Yisrael Beytenu) abstained.
The committee will have the power to decide governmental policy regarding settlements and building beyond the Green Line, although media sources indicate that the defense minister will still wield significant power on the settlement issue.
Sa’ar said that the establishment of the committee proves that the current government headed by Netanyahu has made a significant policy change in relation to the settlement enterprise.
However, some analysts doubt that the committee will reduce Barak’s influence. “The decision does not diminish the prime minister and defense minister’s authority, as stated in government decisions, according to which the defense minister has the authority to approve construction and planning in the West Bank,” wrote the legal adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office, Shulamit Barnea-Farago, in a report quoted by Haaretz.
According to the prime minister’s announcement regarding the committee formulation: “The committee will have authority to formulate Government policy regarding unregulated construction on state and private lands, including the main issues that have reached the courts. Committee decisions will have the status of Cabinet decisions and ministers will be unable to appeal them.”
In addition to Netanyahu, who will be the committee chairman, the committee will comprise Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, Mofaz, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, Minister Zeev Binyamin Begin, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, Sa’ar and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz called the decision “problematic and unnecessary.” He said that reducing the authority of the Defence Ministry is a strange move and raises questions about the motivation behind the committee’s formation.