Construction begins on large new settlement neighborhood west of Ariel

Plans for 1,600 homes in Amirim were approved by Housing Ministry in 1991; Peace Now claims it constitutes a new settlement due to size and distance from Ariel

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

A view of the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, on July 1, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)
A view of the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, on July 1, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Construction has begun in a large new settlement neighborhood on the west side of Ariel in the northern West Bank, approved by the Housing and Construction Ministry and in line with a decision dating back some 33 years.

The new neighborhood, named Amirim, was approved by the Housing Ministry in 1991, before the Oslo Accords, and is situated some two kilometers west of Ariel’s current built-up area, although it is nevertheless within the city’s municipal boundaries.

Former housing and construction minister Ze’ev Elkin advanced the construction of Amirim during the tenure of the Bennett-Lapid government by publishing tenders for construction in October 2021 and advancing the bureaucratic procedure for the approval of an access road to the nascent neighborhood in early 2022.

The Housing Ministry confirmed that construction has begun, stating, “In the last few weeks, the ministry began carrying out initial infrastructure works in the area through the Ariel Municipality.”

The establishment of Amirim was initiated by the approval of plans for the construction of some 1,600 housing units in the proposed neighborhood by the Housing and Construction Ministry in 1991 during the premiership of Yitzhak Shamir, on what was determined to be state land, meaning land that has no registered private owner and is deemed not to be cultivated or used for agricultural purposes.

Bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment at the site of a planned new neighborhood for the Ariel settlement in March 2024. (Courtesy Peace Now)

Implementation of the construction plans was delayed, however, by elections in 1992, which were won by Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor party, and the subsequent Oslo peace process beginning in 1993.

Ariel is already one of the largest West Bank settlements, with over 20,500 residents as of 2024 — one of only four formally designated Israeli cities in the territory.

The Peace Now group, which campaigns against the settlement movement, argued that construction in Amirim amounted to the establishment of an entirely new settlement due to its size and distance from the rest of Ariel.

The organization said it was “further proof, for anyone still in doubt” that the current government is “doing all it can to destroy the possibility of the two-state solution.”

“The construction of a new settlement is part of recent initiatives amidst the ongoing war aimed at advancing thousands of housing units in the territories, declaring thousands of dunams as state land, and approving significant funding for settlements in the 2024 budget,” Peace Now charged.

The organization added that the construction of Amirim and its access road would cut off the nearby Palestinian village of Salfit from other Palestinian population centers in the region, including Kifl Hares and Hares.

New apartment buildings are built at a construction site in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, February 29, 2024. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

A record number of housing units for settlements were advanced at different stages of the planning process in 2023, which Peace Now said was a record since the Oslo Accords were signed.

At the same time, 15 illegal outposts were either legalized or advanced along the process of legalization following a decision by the security cabinet on February 2023.

Just last week, plans for a further 3,426 homes were advanced by the High Planning Subcommittee of the Civil Administration, an agency in the Defense Ministry largely controlled by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry.

Separately, police and Civil Administration personnel on Monday demolished the illegal West Bank outpost of Or Ahuvia close to the settlement of Ofra and evacuated the settlers who had taken up residence in the early hours of the morning.

A rudimentary home was torn down and various equipment at the site was confiscated, settlement activists said. The Civil Administration said the outpost had been established on private Palestinian land.

Or Ahuvia was established in recent months by a group of young female settlement activists in memory of Ahuvia Sandak, who died in a car crash while fleeing from police in December 2020, allegedly after throwing rocks at Palestinians.

Activists said that they had planned for Or Ahuvia to be part of a “Jewish territorial contiguity” area along with Or Meir and two other illegal outposts.

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