Defense Ministry may halt Jordan Valley
TOVAH LAZAROFF, HERB KEINON and YAAKOV KATZ, THE
JERUSALEM POST Jan. 1, 2007www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1167467633674&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
protests from the United States and the European Union, the Defense Ministry is
reconsidering its approval of a new Jordan Valley community located over the
Green Line, The Jerusalem Post learned on Sunday.
The government and the
Defense Ministry initially downplayed last week's decision to allow the
construction of 30 homes for Gaza evacuees in Maskiot.
A government source told the Post then that the decision was
merely "adjusting" the status of a plot of state land where settlement has been
authorized since 1981.
The small community, which is located off an
isolated road in the Jordan Valley, has been populated on and off since 1982.
Currently, it is home to a few permanent residents and a small pre-army academy
that houses 50 Orthodox men in fewer than a dozen small white
The new homes would be constructed adjacent to the existing
structures and would more than triple the number of structures on the
But after the EU and the US said the initiative violated Israel's
international commitments with respect to the West Bank, Defense Minister Amir
Peretz decided to reconsider the decision, according to sources in the Defense
Discussions within the government are also taking place
considering whether to go ahead with the project.
Jordan Valley Regional
Council head Dubi Tal dismissed as insignificant the government's new hesitation
to move forward with a project that has passed through six phases of approval
over the last 14 months.
"It's nothing serious," he told the Post on
Gaza evacuee Yossi Hazut, who is leading the Shirat Hayam group
that wants to live there, said he too believed the government's case of cold
feet was temporary.
Tal said then-prime minister Ariel Sharon and
then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz first approved the move a few months after the
Gaza disengagement in 2005.
Sitting in his living room looking out at the
rain sweeping across the brown hills of the Jordan Valley, he recalled when he
turned to Sharon.
"I thought, 'Here is an opportunity. If he [Sharon]
says yes, it would have political implications for the Jordan Valley.' And that
is how it was.
"I asked him for permission to bring evacuees. He said,
'We will authorize it.'"
Tal said he saw Sharon's decision as tacit
approval for the continuation of Jewish settlement in the Jordan
Sharon, according to Tal, placed a number of conditions on his
approval. The families could only be moved to a lightly-populated, authorized
settlement, Tal said.
Sharon also asked that the move be kept quiet to
"We spoke very specifically about Maskiot," Tal
Since then, he said, there has been a long bureaucratic process,
with the final phase completed last week. The plan, he said, is legal and cannot
But the US and the EU say it is illegal.
Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said on Wednesday: "The establishment of a
new settlement or the expansion of an existing settlement would violate Israel's
obligations under the road map."
Gallegos said the US called on Israel
"to meet its road map obligations and avoid taking steps that could be viewed as
pre-determining the outcome of final-status negotiations."
The EU issued
a similar statement last week, adding that "such unilateral actions are also
illegal under international law and threaten to render the two-state solution
physically impossible to implement."
The EU statement also said "this
development would also mean the relocation of some of the Gaza settlers in the
West Bank, something that the EU said was not acceptable when it gave its
support to the Gaza disengagement."