While the government gave its official approval last week to the establishment of a new settlement in the West Bank to replace the razed illegal outpost of Amona, no settlers are going to be moving in any time soon.

A host of bureaucratic and logistic hurdles have to cleared first, and settler leaders fear that deliberate foot-dragging on the government’s part could delay the settlement’s creation for an indeterminate period.

Even leftists who oppose settlement expansion estimate that it may take up to three years before anyone can move into the new community — even if the government goes full speed ahead.

“It takes time to approve a new settlement; it’s a lot of work,” said Hagit Ofran, who analyzes settlement growth for Peace Now, a dovish organization opposed to Israel’s presence in the West Bank. “The government knows how to move such processes quickly, but it will not be finished by tomorrow morning.”

Israeli settlers scuffle with security forces at the Amona outpost during an evacuation operation on February 1, 2017. (AFP/Jack GUEZ)

Israeli settlers scuffle with security forces at the Amona outpost during an evacuation operation on February 1, 2017. (AFP/Jack GUEZ)

If the government does decide to move fast on establishing the new settlement, it could take 12 to 24 months for the bulldozers to start rolling, and “another year, at least, until people can move in,” she said.

On Thursday evening, the security cabinet voted unanimously in favor of a plan to establish a new community adjacent to Shiloh in the northern West Bank to resettle the evicted residents from Amona, an outpost razed in early February because the High Court of Justice ruled it had been built illegally on private Palestinian land.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised months ago to create the new settlement in exchange for the peaceful evacuation of Amona. The new community, which is reportedly slated to be built on a West Bank hilltop called Geulat Zion, or “The Redemption of Zion,” would be the first government-approved settlement in more than two decades.

The Geulat Zion hilltop is currently barren, though Peace Now says building a new settlement there “is strategic for the fragmentation of the West Bank, as it continues a stretch of settlements from the Green Line to the Jordan Valley, aiming to undermine the possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.

While the US government expressed understanding for the government’s decision, saying Netanyahu had promised it before President Donald Trump expressed his reservations about settlement expansion, the United Nations, the European Union and individual Arab and European states sharply condemned the move, saying it undermined prospects for peace.

US President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC.  (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Hours after it announced the establishment of the new settlement, the government said that it would henceforth adopt a “new policy” of limiting settlement expansion to take Trump’s position into consideration.

According to an unofficial agreement between Jerusalem and Washington, Israel can add an unlimited number of housing units to any settlement in the West Bank as long as it does not dramatically expand the community’s existing “footprint.”

Israel further committed not to establish any new outposts besides the one planned for Geulat Zion, which is located northeast of Ramallah.

The Yesha Council settlement umbrella organization initially reacted favorably to the government’s plans, celebrating the first new settlement in decades and highlighting that Israel was given a green light to expand settlements everywhere in the West Bank.

Speaking to The Times of Israel on Monday, however, the council’s foreign envoy, Oded Revivi, said he feared the cabinet’s decision to build a new settlement might have been a “smokescreen” to divert the settlers’ attention from a policy to slow down the pace of West Bank construction in a bid to appease the Trump administration.

“The decision is extremely vague, and we’re concerned that nothing will come of this promise,” Revivi said. “Time will tell whether there were good intentions behind it or not.”

Regional council chairman Oded Revivi (L) tours with Foreign Ministry Director-General Yuval Rotem (2nd-R) tours in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on November 8, 2016. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Regional council chairman Oded Revivi (L) tours with Foreign Ministry Director-General Yuval Rotem (2nd-R) tours in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on November 8, 2016. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

According to the text of the security cabinet’s decision, which was leaked to the Hebrew press, several stages have to be completed before construction can commence for the new community.

For instance, the security cabinet asked the defense minister to appoint a preparatory committee to do the required groundwork. That would include determining an exact location, and then investigating various aspects crucial to the planning process, including financial, budgetary, environmental and infrastructure issues. The committee’s findings would then have to be approved by a planning and zoning committee and receive the Finance Ministry’s blessing.

After that, the defense minister would be required to report back to the security cabinet “in order to plan the settlement and deliberate on aspects related to its establishment, including obtaining financial-budgetary references,” according to the security cabinet’s decision.

“There’s no way to estimate how long this will take,” Revivi said. “Judging by the language of the security cabinet decision, it will take as long as the prime minister and his ministers want it to take. If they wanted the plan to come to fruition tomorrow, it would happen tomorrow.”

Revivi, who is also the mayor of Efrat, just south of Bethlehem, said he was disappointed that the government did not publish more information about its plans for the new settlement, but added that the Yesha Council was not going to embark on a vocal campaign to demand their speedy implementation.

“Time will tell,” he said.

According to Peace Now’s Ofran, if the government were serious in advancing the plans for the new settlement at the Geulat Zion site, the initial planning stage would likely last several months. After that, obtaining the necessary approvals for the plans would take between six months and a year, she estimated, “depending on how fast they want to work and how many legal problems and other planning obstacles they will encounter.”

.Hagit Ofran, a Peace Now activist and granddaughter of Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, protesting outside the prime minister's residence (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/ Flash 90)

Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran, protesting outside the Prime Minister’s Residence. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Realistically speaking, I would say it takes between one and two years, if they work fast and seriously” to conclude the planning and approvals stage, she said. From the moment actual construction started it would take an additional 12 months or so until the settlers would be able to move into their new homes, she reckoned.

On the other hand, if the government wanted to delay or entirely freeze the development of the Geulat Zion site — presumably in the framework of American efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — it would be very easy to stop the process, Ofran said.

“If the government wanted to drag its feet, it could do so forever,” she said. “In the West Bank, everything can be stopped with a single order from the government. It’s occupied territory, so there’s no need for legislation. Theoretically, they can stop the process at any point and stall as long as they want.”