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Defense minister hails the settlements, but cautions the settlers

In a New Year’s toast, Avigdor Liberman chides residents who’ve argued that building numbers aren’t high enough

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, during a visit to the Megilot Regional Council on September 17, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, during a visit to the Megilot Regional Council on September 17, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday touted settlements as Israel’s “defensive shield” at a Jewish new year’s toast with settler leadership, but the no-nonsense lawmaker also chided the settlers who have been very critical of his ministry’s work in the West Bank.

Liberman boasted of increased West Bank building approvals since the beginning of the calendar year — some 3,500 building plans that received final approvals and some 8,000 that were advanced in various planning stages — and rejected criticism that he should have authorized much more.

“Even here, I hear (West Bank) council heads with all kinds of unreasonable and unacceptable accusations. With all the complaints against the Civil Administration… you have no right to blame them,” he said. “You can blame the defense minister and the prime minister; we are responsible, not them.”

The defense minister went further, criticizing four disputed homes erected in July in the illegal outpost of Sde Boaz, south of Jerusalem. “There is no need for illegal construction. There is no need in Sde Boaz to bring in another four temporary homes when there are already 40 (permanent) structures there,” said Liberman.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (middle) raises his glass in a Jewish new year’s toast with settler leaders in the Vered Yericho settlement on September 17, 2017. (Miri Tzachi/Yesha Council)

Prior to the toast at the Vered Yericho settlement, the defense minister toured several other communities in the Megilot Regional Council near the Dead Sea. The day was organized by the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization representing West Bank settlements.

Despite the airing of grievances, Liberman made clear that there was little daylight between him and the settlers from an ideological standpoint. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s clear that settlement in Judea and Samaria… is the real defensive wall of the State of Israel,” he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

While acknowledging the growing importance of cyber security and missile defense, Liberman asserted that “even today, the argument is first of all about territory.”

Outgoing Yesha Council chairman Avi Roeh thanked Liberman for his efforts on behalf of settlers. “It is an honor for us, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah to host the Minister of Defense, who is responsible for the settlement in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley,” he said.

“I think that the issue of settlement should be one of the national missions of the State of Israel,” Roeh concluded.

The Defense Ministry has responsibility for approving all building over the Green Line, in areas which Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War, but has never annexed.

Much of the international community view the settlements as illegal and have frequently tried to pressure Israel to halt settlement construction. The Palestinians say it is one of the major obstacles to reaching a peace deal.

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