Netanyahu stalling security barrier construction, settler leader claims

PM has adopted settlers’ stance against Defense Minister Ya’alon, says delighted Gush Etzion Regional Council chief

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Etzion Regional Council head Davidi Perl, October 6, 2014 (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
Etzion Regional Council head Davidi Perl, October 6, 2014 (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is stalling the construction of the security barrier south of Jerusalem out of belief that the only way to ensure Israel’s safety is a permanent Israel Defense Forces presence in the West Bank, a settler leader told The Times of Israel on Monday.

Davidi Perl, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, said that he and other settler leaders appealed to Netanyahu against Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s decision to resume construction of the barrier that would physically separate the Etzion settlement bloc’s almost 80,000 residents from the State of Israel.

“Israel’s defense is only through an IDF presence and settlement in Judea and Samaria,” Perl said. “The prime minister definitely shares this position.”

The resumption of construction was meant to be decided by the cabinet on September 21, but a vote was postponed following the intervention of cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit and Likud MKs Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin, Perl said. A rare coalition of Palestinians, settlers and environmentalists has been fighting the route of the barrier near the Palestinian village of Battir since 2006.

Perl told Army Radio on September 18 that he was surprised to learn that the matter was being brought before the government, since Netanyahu had promised the settlers two years earlier that construction of the barrier would be “frozen.”

“Suddenly Bibi [Netanyahu] realized that he doesn’t need to make a decision now regarding the continued construction of the fence, but only needs to answer the High Court [of Justice] regarding its [proposed] route,” Perl said. “I don’t think it will go anywhere.”

David Perl, right, with housing and construction minister Uri Ariel during a visit to Gush Etzion,  April 1, 2014 photo credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Davidi Perl (right), with Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel during a visit to Gush Etzion, April 1, 2014. (photo credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The government told the High Court of Justice that it wouldn’t re-route the barrier, proposing instead to change its height and width in order to minimize harm to the environment, Perl said.

Former prime minister Ariel Sharon began constructing the barrier in June 2002, at the height of the Second Intifada, to prevent the infiltration of suicide bombers into Israel. So far, just over 62% of the planned 708-kilometer (440-mile) barrier has been completed, at an estimated cost of nearly NIS 11 billion ($3 billion) as of late 2013, according to Finance Ministry data published by Israeli NGO B’Tselem. The entire barrier has been extended very little since 2007.

Responding to Perl’s claims, a senior government official said that “the decision to build the fence in the area has not changed, but before that decision is implemented it will come once again before the government.”

Perl said he could not envision the barrier being completed “unless the security situation in the West Bank worsens.”

Netanyahu told Pope Francis following his controversial visit to the concrete wall in Bethlehem in May that the security barrier — “which has saved thousands of lives” — was essential for Israel’s security. His spokesman Mark Regev asserted in 2013 that it was not a political border, repeating the traditional stated position of Israeli governments since Sharon.

Pope Francis prays against the security barrier at Bethlehem, May 25, 2014 (photo credit: Nour Shamaly/Flash90)
Pope Francis prays against the security barrier at Bethlehem, May 25, 2014. (photo credit: Nour Shamaly/Flash90)

But Perl insisted that the security argument was dispelled by the recent Gaza operation; while the political argument voiced by Regev was simply “a lie,” contradicted by past statements of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni who admitted to planning the barrier with Sharon as a future political border.

“We’ve all seen the results in Gaza [which is surrounded by a fence — E.M.],” Perl said. “A fence doesn’t contribute [to security]; it hampers our ability to operate inside Palestinian cities, to protect the State of Israel, to prevent terror. In Judea and Samaria there’s almost no terror, because the IDF is here. The IDF is not in Gaza, and we’re really getting it from Gaza.”

By constructing the security barrier west of the Etzion Bloc, Perl argued, Netanyahu would effectively be demarcating the future borders of Israel to the detriment of the settlers, a move he is uninterested in carrying out.

“The barrier serves no purpose,” Perl concluded.

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