Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced Thursday that a project for the first new Israeli homes in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron in 16 years will be submitted to cabinet ministers for approval.
“On Sunday, the cabinet will approve the plan to build 31 housing units in the Hezekiah Quarter of Hebron. The plan, which has already been advanced through various planning stages, [also] includes kindergartens and public parks,” Liberman tweeted.
A defense official told The Times of Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu green-lit the project a year ago, allowing the Civil Administration — the Defense Ministry body that authorizes West Bank construction — to grant building permits for the 31 homes.
However, the project is unique in that it requires turning what is currently an Israeli military base into a residential area, and therefore requires funds from various government ministries. In order to efficiently move forward with the plan, Liberman is having it brought before the cabinet for approval, the defense official said.
The Peace Now settlement watchdog and the Palestinian municipality in Hebron have issued an appeal to the Civil Administration against the project.
The defense official said his office was aware of the appeal and that “a decision will be released soon.”
Asked if Liberman’s announcement was deliberately made hours after a stabbing attack in the northern West Bank, the defense official said that plans for the project had been moving forward regardless, but that he had no issue with it being viewed as a “response” of sorts to the attack.
The land in question is located in the heart of Beit Romano, one of the Jewish settlement’s four neighborhoods in Hebron’s H2 area.
Under the Hebron Protocol signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January 1997 with Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat, the West Bank’s most populous city was divided into two sections. H1 includes 80 percent of the city and lies under full Palestinian control. In H2, which is under Israeli military control, 500 Israeli settlers live surrounded by 40,000 Palestinians.
Due partly to the sensitive nature of the ancient city, Jewish settlers have been unable to receive building approvals from the Civil Administration since 2002, when 10 housing units were approved for the Tel Romeida neighborhood.
The settlers refer to the area where they plan to build an apartment complex and various educational complexes as the Hezekiah Quarter. It was under Jewish ownership prior to Israel’s establishment in 1948, but the Civil Administration later leased the property to Hebron’s Palestinian municipality for the establishment of a central bus station, which was built and later moved.
While the land was seized from the municipality in the 1980s for the establishment of an IDF base, the local Palestinians that appealed to the Civil Administration have contended that the protective tenancy status remained intact.
In a statement responding to Liberman’s Thursday tweet, Peace Now said that nothing harms Israel’s reputation as much a construction projects for Israeli settlers in Hebron.
“Instead of evacuating them, the government surrenders to extremists and seems intent on forcing us away from peace,” the left-wing NGO said, vowing to petition to the High Court of Justice if the Civil Administration rejected their appeal.