News / Middle East

Settlers Protest West Bank Construction Freeze

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Robert Berger

Jewish settlement councils have declared a general strike to protest the Israeli government's freeze on construction in West Bank communities.  Settlement leaders demonstrated outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem as the Cabinet held its weekly meeting.  They carried signs saying, you can freeze in the North Pole, but not in Israel.

The settlers helped elect right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but now they accuse him of abandoning his nationalist ideals.

Settlement activist Nadia Matar.

"We elected him, the majority of the Jewish people elected him to fight for Zionism, and to continue Zionism and the settling of the Land of Israel," she said.  "Let us settle it, expand and love our homeland."  

Mr. Netanyahu reluctantly imposed a partial freeze on West Bank construction under pressure from the United States, which sees the settlements as an obstacle to peace.  Government spokesman Mark Regev says the Prime Minister is sympathetic to the settlers' plight.

"He knows that this suspension of settlement construction is difficult, that it is not easy for anyone; and we are working with the settlement community to try to ease the pain involved because we know it is difficult for them," he said.

But Mr. Netanyahu has not been able to placate the settlers or the Palestinians.  The freeze does not include 3,000 Jewish homes already under construction in the West Bank and does not apply to disputed East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek as the capital of their future state.  Palestinian officials say the partial freeze is not enough to resume peace talks that were suspended a year ago.

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