Knesset Debates Construction Freeze

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli members of Knesset (MKs) began debating the pros and cons of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's 10-month construction freeze in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) on Tuesday.

Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Begin restated his reasons for backing what he called the government's "painful but correct" decision to temporarily halt building." He predicted that Israel would build "faster and more than before" when the moratorium ends "on the basis of our basic and historical right in our land, which includes Judea and Samaria."

Mitchell Barak, CEO of Keevoon, a Jerusalem-based political consulting firm, told CBN News that Netanyahu must be under tremendous pressure to have made such a decision. Barak said that as someone who is firmly on the right, he feels comfortable as long as Bennie Begin remains in the government.

Right-wing National Union MKs Michael Ben-Ari and Uri Ariel were among those expressing their opposition to the building freeze.

Meanwhile, residents of five Jewish communities blocked Defense Ministry inspectors who arrived in Kiryat Arba on Tuesday to enforce the freeze by confiscating building materials and tools.

"A group of 15 people [inspectors] arrived here. They stood in the area for nearly an hour and when they realized we wouldn't allow them to work, they left shamefaced," Kiryat Arba Council head Malachi Levinger said.

Residents told the IDF inspectors to go to Umm al-Fahm - a large Israeli Arab city - to stop construction there.

"Look at the amount of illegal Arab construction. You haven't issued one order. The IDF is the Israel Defense Forces, not the anti-Israel forces," activist Itamar Ben Gvir told the inspectors.

On Monday, Defense Ministry inspectors issued 50 stop-work orders in the city of Ariel. They also confiscated building materials, tractors and bulldozers.

"Those inspectors left us all with our chins on the ground," contractor Avi Ben-Ayon told YNet news. Foundations had been laid at the construction sites, which were approved months ago.

"Nobody told me about the freeze orders until the inspectors arrived to enforce them," he said. They ordered the crew to stop drilling and said they had evidence proving the foundations were laid recently.

"That takes some time because you can't just leave open holes," Ben-Ayon said, "but they took away my equipment."

On Sunday, Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak credited himself for the government's decision.

"Everyone should close their eyes and ask themselves who would be in the government without us," Barak told members of the party's executive committee. "Would a narrow right-wing government have frozen settlements and could it have begun a diplomatic process?" he asked.

Barak ordered 40 new inspectors to be hired to reinforce the 14 employees of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria.

The IDF issued orders to 24 regional council heads to support the government's decision and removed their jurisdiction to issue building permits.

Yishai Hollander, spokesman for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (the Yesha Council) called the government's actions "racist, immoral and illegal."

"It's a sad day that on November 29, the Israeli prime minister, elected by the national camp on the basis of an explicit platform that supported building in Judea and Samaria, forbids Jews from building in their ancestral homeland," he said, noting that the same government ignores illegal Arab construction.

Yesha leaders are planning a rally in Jerusalem next week "to express their outrage" at what they are calling the prime minister's "senseless capitulation."

YNet news and  The Jerusalem Post contributed to this article.

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