Monday, November 30, 2009

Supervisors hand out construction freeze orders; patrol settlements

After handing out construction freeze orders to all West Bank council heads, the Civil Administration on Monday sent supervisors to patrol West Bank settlements and enforce the orders approved by the cabinet.

The supervisors carry different documents that are meant to help them determine whether any changes were made on the construction grounds.

They will also receive aerial shots taken last Friday, to help compare the existing land conditions with any changes made in the future. According to the directive, all construction work that began by last Friday and did not lay foundations, must be stopped.

Violation of the directive will prompt an immediate order to halt construction. If construction continues, work tools can be seized and enforcement forces can be called on scene. Violators may be charged and face up to two years in prison.

As of Monday, a few orders were handed out to seize construction in several locations; however no unusual incidents were reported.

Data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics confirms the claim that construction in the West Bank region was already at a low point prior to the cabinet's decision to freeze construction.

According to the data, 1,199 new construction projects began between January and September – a 27.6% decrease from last year's number.

Despite the nation-wide decline in construction, an increase was recorded in several areas such as Jerusalem, which recorded a 25% increase. The sharpest decline was recorded in the Tel Aviv area (39%), while the West Bank region came in second.

Meanwhile, controversy among cabinet ministers over the freeze order continued. Minister Silvan Shalom, who was out of the country during the cabinet vote on the construction freeze, said he did not know the vote was scheduled to take place – but would have voted against it.

"Freezing the construction is unnecessary, and will not bring Palestinians back to the negotiations table," Shalom said.

Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon called for the establishment of a governmental committee that will deal with the hardships facing West Bank residents under the new conditions.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday announced the recruitment of an additional 40 construction inspectors that will help the 14 currently employed inspectors enforce the temporary freeze.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan criticized Barak, saying "he is not so innocent; he has a political agenda."

The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel filed a petition with the High Court of Justice to revoke the decision to halt construction, until a suitable governmental decision is made.

The petition, which was filed against Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the Security Cabinet, claimed the construction freeze severely harms the basic rights of West Bank residents.

The petition further claimed that the decision was not rooted on defense considerations and therefore should be made by the government and not the cabinet.


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