The government is reportedly pushing forward with a plan to funnel some NIS 50 million ($12.8 million) to Jewish settlements in the West Bank city of Hebron and nearby Kiryat Arba.
The move, coming in the wake of two deadly terror attacks in the area last week, will likely raise new hackles in the international community, including the US, which already this week harshly condemned an Israeli plan for some 800 new homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
According to Channel 2 television, the Hebron-Kiryat Arba plan — spearheaded by hawkish Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home party — includes NIS 2 million ($515,000) for a heritage trail and new signage around the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a flashpoint holy site revered by both Jews and Muslims.
The plan also includes NIS 6 million ($1.5 million) for new roads and infrastructure in the area, NIS 5 million ($1.2 million) for a bike trail, and NIS 3 million ($773,000) to refurbish an archaeological park, Channel 2 said.
“From the start of Zionism it has been clear that the Arab terror is beaten through settlement activities alongside security activities, that’s how it is around Gaza, that’s how it is on the northern border, and that’s also how it is the Hebron Hills region,” Ariel said, according to the Walla news website.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that he would push through approval for 46 new homes in Kiryat Arba, after 13-year-old Hallel Ariel was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in her home. Rabbi Miki Mark from the nearby settlement of Otniel was killed in a drive-by shooting on Friday. His wife was seriously injured in the terror attack, and two of his children were also wounded.
On Sunday night, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman approved hundreds of new housing units in Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem in answer to the terror attacks.
The State Department on Tuesday responded to the construction by accusing Israel of the systematic seizure of Palestinian land. In an unusually strongly worded statement, spokesman John Kirby said the reports of new building permits being issued called into question Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution.
“If its true, this report would be the latest step in what seems to be the systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions and legalization of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution. We oppose steps like these which we believe are counterproductive,” Kirby said.
But Netanyahu brushed off Washington’s criticism of the plans on Wednesday.
“We’re familiar with the American position; we don’t accept it. Building in Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim is not, with all due respect, distancing peace,” Netanyahu said, speaking at a press conference in Kigali alongside Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
“What is preventing peace is the ongoing incitement against the existence of Israel within any borders, and it is time for the nations of the world to recognize that truth,” he said.