Settler leaders say government’s construction plans insufficient
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Settler leaders say government’s construction plans insufficient

Samaria council head says 2,600 homes up for approval next week are akin to a settlement freeze

A view of construction in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on January 26, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
A view of construction in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on January 26, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Settler leaders on Friday criticized the government’s announced plans to review and advance various settlement construction projects in the West Bank, saying they failed to meet the high demand for homes by the growing settler population.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee is set to meet next week to review and advance multiple projects which were put on hold for various reasons, including US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel last week.

The various projects on the committee’s docket include advancing through different stages of planning as many as 2,600 homes. Of these, over 400 are expected to receive final approval for construction, including some outside the major settlement blocs.

The settlers’ Yesha Council said in a statement that the plans under discussion were not enough to meet the needs of residents.

A spokesman for the council said that even if all the plans are approved it will not be enough to fill the demand for West Bank homes.

“Even this is too little,” he said, “compared to the growing need created by years of freezes on building, which has created a shortage of homes in Judea and Samaria.”

Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, was much more blunt in his disapproval, saying the number of new homes up for review was tantamount to a quiet construction freeze.

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan speaks to the media after the funeral of Eitam and Naama Henkin on Friday, October 2, 2015. (Screen capture Channel 2)
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan speaks to the media after the funeral of Eitam and Naama Henkin on Friday, October 2, 2015. (Screen capture Channel 2)

“We have again been informed that the prime minister has chosen to reject most of the construction requests of the Judea and Samaria communities,” he said. “After eight years (of the Obama presidency) there are no more excuses.”

Dagan threatened that should such a policy be enacted, 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.

Har Hevron Regional Council head Yohai Damari called on government ministers, “after you approved Arab building on state lands last week, to strengthen the settlement [movement] and release all the plans that were frozen in the eight-year-long Obama dry spell.”

The Prime Minister’s Office rejected the criticism, saying: “There is no freeze. The opposite is true. In recent months thousands of homes have been approved… and for the first time in decades a new community was approved. Repeating a lie does not make it true.. No one cares for the settlers more than Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu, and he does so while carefully caring for Israel’s national and international interests as well.”

The government does not expect the building approvals to cause diplomatic trouble with Washington, having already discussed the issue with the Trump administration, an Israeli official said. “These are plans, some of which are old and were frozen at various stages,” he said.

The committee normally meets every few months, but its last scheduled meeting was postponed due to Trump’s visit to Israel.

On Thursday Netanyahu ordered a team of staffers to carry out a comprehensive review of all the new plans, the NRG news site reported. The team approved the plans that will be considered by the Civil Administration next week.

Earlier this week Dagan reportedly warned the Trump administration not to pressure Netanyahu too strongly on peace — or risk his downfall.

While in the early days of the Trump administration the White House insisted that settlements were not “an impediment to peace,” during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in February, the president told the prime minister that he’d like him to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” and said in a Hebrew newspaper interview that settlements are “not a good thing for peace.”

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