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Ha'aretz, May 30, 1999

The Ma'aleh Adumim coup

A Ha'aretz Editorial


Defense Minister Moshe Arens evaded taking a decision on how the Israel Defense Forces should respond to the series of attacks on the settlements along the northern border, opting instead to leave the conundrum to Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak. It is true that the incumbent government is the government for all intents and purposes until it is replaced under law by its heir. But in democratic nations, a departing government customarily avoids taking actions of importance that are not urgent in nature. This is what the departing defense minister is doing regarding the Lebanon problem.

But Arens neglected to behave in the same proper way when he decided to sign the order annexing more than 13,000 dunams (about 4,250 acres) to the town of Ma'aleh Adumim, located on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The general direction behind the hasty signature on the order is quite transparent: About a year ago the government tried to expand Jerusalem eastward, in an attempt to create a "greater Jerusalem." But widespread protests against the move arose in Israel and around the world; the government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu quailed before the arrows of criticism.

Now, however, the plan is quietly returning through the back door. This time, instead of moving Jerusalem's border to the east, the border of Ma'aleh Adumim is moving west toward the capital city. If the plan is carried out, the area of Ma'aleh Adumim will be greater than that of Tel Aviv.

The argument arising now isn't the exclusive province of city planners. The fear is that the Likud government is seeking to leave scorched earth behind it. The most recent history is characterized by unapproved settlement activity; Arens's coup looks like it is associated with the provocations now taking place in the territories and in a few places in Jerusalem. The defense establishment warned Arens against taking reckless action that could cause a ferment in the territories.

It is not yet clear whether the Palestinian public's attention will be caught by this problem, or whether their leaders will assume the whole thing to be prestige plays between the various Israeli governments, in which the Palestinians have no stake. One must hope that the Palestinians, who showed patience during the months of election campaigning and who refrained from taking steps that could have caused bloodshed, thus playing into the hands of the fanatics, will not stumble at the outgoing government's last moments.

An urban-strategic resolution of the type taken at Ma'aleh Adumim cannot be classified as an urgent one. It has been waiting to be implemented since the days when Yitzhak Rabin held the defense portfolio; Arens and his colleagues should have left it for the Barak regime. It is not fair to present the incoming government with a done deal.

The government in which Arens serves as defense minister could yet stay in place for weeks. The pace of the coalition negotiations should not be affected by fears of unfair last-second coups by a government that lost the public's trust. Its members will not have to bear responsibility for their deeds and blunders from now until leaving the seat of power. The ministers should restrain themselves, even if their desire to grab everything they can in the public arena is only natural in the general atmosphere of relief from responsibility.



(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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