The announcement that the prime minister has directed cabinet ministers not to build in the territories behind his back sounds like a sleight of hand. The prime minister should not instruct his ministers to “increase awareness” of their ministries’ actions that might impair negotiations with the Palestinians, but rather he should once and for all bring the Sasson report to the cabinet for approval. The report states clearly how to monitor settlement expansion.
First of all the state must take back the powers it surrendered to the settlers’ local councils. Since the Civil Administration is the highest authority in the territories, it can stop the construction of any house in every settlement, if it would only be given the proper directive.
Stopping construction in East Jerusalem is more problematic, but possible. Since East Jerusalem has been annexed to Israel, the usual laws of planning and construction apply to it, and not every decision on the construction of a house is brought before the government. When Ehud Olmert was mayor, he encouraged building in the eastern part of the city through foreign millionaires, who purchased buildings and expanded them into Jewish neighorhoods.
Today, as Olmert attempts to move ahead talks with Mahmoud Abbas, he probably regrets some of his decisions. But meanwhile the system continues to work, and neighborhoods like Ras el-Amud and Har Homa, which were already provocations back then, continue to expand due to construction permits given in the past.