Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said Sunday morning he will not vote against a new temporary freeze on condition that U.S. President Barack Obama put a promise in a written letter that Israel can resume building after 90 days in large population centers.
Minister Yishai, whose party is a key member of the coalition, said he will abstain in a Cabinet vote under two conditions, one of them being a letter from President Obama. He also wants it made clear that all building for Jews will proceed in all of Jerusalem, which is not covered by the new freeze proposed by the United States.
“Shas will demand that at the end of the suggested 90-day non-renewable freeze, President Obama send a letter promising that building will resume in Maaleh Adumim, Beitar Illit, Ariel and Kiryat Sefer,” the Shas leader stated. Ariel is located in Samaria, less than 25 minutes from metropolitan Tel Aviv, while Maaleh Adumim is seven minutes from northern Jerusalem neighborhoods. Both have large secular populations.
All of the cities are major Jewish population centers in Judea and Samaria. Beitar Illit, located in western Gush Etzion, and Kiryat Sefer, next to Modi’in and between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, are homes to a large hareidi religious population.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush promised in a letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon several years ago that Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, would remain part of Israel if the Palestinian Authority were to establish a new Arab country in the rest of Judea and Samaria. The Obama administration has said that the letter was a personal promise and was not legally binding.
Besides Shas’ conditions, the American proposal has been met by widespread opposition in the Likud party and among other coalition parties, except for Labor, which favors it.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said prior to the weekly Cabinet session Sunday morning that the American proposal is not necessarily the final proposal he will submit for approval. He added that if a final proposal is made, it will be presented to the Inner Cabinet of seven senior ministers with whom he met Saturday night.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu coalition party, has not commented on the latest freeze proposal but said late last week he will not back another freeze, “even for one day.”
The Jewish Home, which has three Knesset Members, is split. MK Uri Orbach wants the party to quit the coalition if another freeze is approved, while chairman, Science Minister Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz took a wait-and-see approach. “We are against any freeze in principle,” he said Sunday morning, but added, “At this stage, the time has not come to raise our hands. We hope to influence the outcome. Building in Judea and Samaria never was an ‘obstacle to peace.’”