JERUSALEM, Aug 29 (Dan Williams/Reuters) - A group of Israeli actors and playwrights has refused to perform in Jewish settlements
in the West Bank
just days before U.S.-sponsored peace talks start over the occupied territory where Palestinians want a state.
A total of 57 theatrical personalities had signed up to the boycott by Sunday, prompted by the planned opening in November of a state-funded theater in Ariel
, one of the biggest Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The signatories urged managers of six major theater companies to hold productions only within Israel
proper, drawing rebukes from an Israeli government facing a Palestinian threat to pull out of negotiations if settlements expand.
Those actors among us hereby declare that they will refuse to appear in Ariel, as well as at other settlements, said the boycott petition, circulated before the Sept. 2 start of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the United States.
Some Israeli artists criticized the boycott call, showing lack of consensus in the country over how to view settlements built on territory captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.
Israeli Culture Minister Limor Livnat, a senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
's rightist Likud
party, said the petitioners were out of line given the government's financial underwriting of their theaters.
They can protest against what they call occupied land, but here they are certainly imposing a boycott, Livnat told Army Radio, accusing the actors of bringing about a rift in Israeli society.
The settlements have been branded as illegal internationally but many Jews say they have a biblical birthright to live there.
Actor Oded Kotler, who signed the petition, said his government-backed paycheck would not prevent him from shunning settlement venues.
My contract with the theater says explicitly that I am obligated to perform within the State of Israel -- and Ariel is not part of the state, he said.
Successive Israeli governments have pledged to annex West Bank settlement blocs, including Ariel, under any future peace accord. The Palestinians have spoken about limited territorial exchanges but balk at Israeli moves to predetermine borders.
A more immediate dispute has been over the Sept. 26 expiry of a partial moratorium that Netanyahu imposed on settlement building to coax Palestinians into negotiations. They want the freeze extended and expanded. (Editing by Charles Dick)