An Israeli plan to double the size of the Palestinian city of Qalqilya in the northern West Bank has drawn anger from settlement leaders.
The plan, Channel 2 news reported Wednesday, would see 14,000 new apartments built on 2,500 dunams (617 acres) in Israeli-controlled Area C surrounding the city. It would potentially double the city’s population from 50,000 to 110,000.
Sources in the Defense Ministry told the TV station that the plan was not new, and was part of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s carrot and stick approach that would ease the lives of Palestinians.
But settler leaders reacted with outrage to the news.
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan accused the government of “taking the terror city of Qalqilya, which has produced so many terror attacks, and giving it a gift.”
The approval of 14,000 units, he noted, was “seven times what all four Jewish councils received in all Judea and Samaria.”
Settlers also voiced concern that new construction would come very close the territory of the Tzofim settlement.
“Has this government lost all restraint? Have we gone completely mad?” Dagan said. “You can’t speak in two voices: on the one hand claiming you’re doing everything for the settlements and on the other stopping construction in the settlements while advancing Arab construction.”
The Prime Minister’s Office, meanwhile, rejected the criticism, saying in a statement the plan was one “presented by the defense minister last year and approved by the cabinet.”
Since that time, it noted, “over 10,000 homes have been approved for planning and construction in the Jewish communities, so this complaint is untrue and absurd.”
Channel 2 said the right-wing NGO Regavim, which deals with land issues, was planning to file a court appeal against the plan on behalf of Tzofim residents.
“The plan will grievously hurt Tzofim, which will effectively be surrounded by the Palestinian city,” Regavim told Channel 2 in a statement. “The Palestinian proposal is a disaster planning-wise. Instead of approving maximum urban construction upwards on the basis of existing plans, it allowed low construction over a huge area, senselessly wasting land resources.”
Likud Knesset member Yoav Kisch and Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich said the plan “crosses a red line” and said they would demand clarifications on its details.
Earlier this month settler leadership criticized what it said was an insufficient number of construction projects advanced by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee.
Leaders said approved homes failed to meet the high demand by the growing settler population.
Dagan threatened at the time that in the face of such policies, Likud may need to start looking for “a different candidate for prime minister, one that is committed in actions, not just words, to the ideology” of the Israeli right.
Settler representatives, including Dagan, later had what they said was a “positive” meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though they did not name any concrete gains.
Liberman himself said this week that settlement building numbers were the highest they have been in over 20 years, and warned that clamoring for more construction could bring the whole enterprise tumbling down.
Responding to settler criticism, Liberman warned Sunday that the rate of building was as high as it could possibly go.
“There was and will not be a government that will take better care of the Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria,” Liberman added. He said settlement building numbers for the first half of 2017 were the highest they have been since 1992.
He said 3,651 housing units were greenlighted last week and a total of 8,345 units have been okayed since the beginning of the calendar year, terming the figures “the maximum.”
The figures were similar to those published by settlement watchdog Peace Now last week.
Counting plans and tenders, Peace Now said 7,721 units had been advanced this year, almost triple the number for all of 2016, which amounted to 2,699.