Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon approved the ongoing renovations of a former church complex and its conversion into a possible Jewish settlement in the West Bank last week, the Haaretz daily reported Saturday.
The complex was purchased by US millionaire and right-wing philanthropist Irving Moskowitz through a series of shell corporations and charitable organizations in 2008, when it was sold by a Presbyterian church.
The 10-acre property sits across from the al-Aroub refugee camp on Route 60, between the Etzion settlement bloc and Hebron. If it were populated, the outpost would help create a Jewish corridor between the two areas, making a two-state peace deal more difficult to negotiate.
The compound has been undergoing repairs for the past few months. A new fence was built despite a stop-work injunction by Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank, which cited the lack of a building permit for the fence.
The IDF had been unaware of the site’s intended purpose when the refurbishment began, and security for the settlement-to-be was even handled by a private company. Repairs stopped when news of the compound’s refurbishment broke last week.
However, following a series of meetings with the site’s manager Arieh King, a Jerusalem City Council member and right-wing activist, Ya’alon has approved the construction.
The defense minister’s decision does not include approval to populate the site. A request for settling the former church complex has not even been received, the Defense Ministry told Haaretz.
Local Christian Arabs have protested the site’s renovation, placing Palestinian flags on the complex’s fence.
The Presbyterian Church in the West Bank has threatened to fight the decision in court, according to a statement by the group.