Defense Minister Benny Gantz is promoting the construction of almost 5,000 new homes in West Bank settlements, a report said Sunday evening, after more than six months in which such construction has been frozen.
The move is seen as a potential maneuver by Gantz to cement ties with settler leaders who are currently fuming at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reneged last month on a longtime promise to annex the settlements and decided instead to normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates.
Gantz plans to convene the Civil Administration Planning Committee next week to approve the construction, which will not be limited to the large settlement blocs, Channel 12 reported.
Apart from the blocs of Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel, hundreds of the homes are to be built in Beit El, Shilo, Nokdim, Har Bracha and the South Hebron Hills, according to the unsourced report.
Gantz’s office on Sunday sent a letter to Netanyahu’s office, asking him to okay the committee meeting.
The decision on whether to convene the committee lies with Netanyahu, but the premier would likely face a fierce backlash from his right-wing base if he were to refuse Gantz’s initiative, months before national elections are widely expected to be triggered.
Elections were narrowly averted last month during a standoff between Netanyahu’s and Gantz’s parties over the state budget. Failure to pass the budget is the only scenario that would prevent Netanyahu from having to hand the premiership to Gantz.
A last-minute compromise delayed the deadline from August 25 to December 23. Elections are expected to be called either then or in March, when the 2021 budget must be approved. If no elections are called, Gantz will become prime minister in November 2021, as per the coalition agreement.
The last time Israel promoted the construction of settler homes was in February, when it lifted restrictions on the construction of the controversial Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, saying that 3,000 homes would be built for Jewish residents there, in addition to another 2,200 housing units for Jews in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood.
Netanyahu also announced plans to build in a strip of land in the West Bank East of Jerusalem called E1, effectively linking the capital to Ma’ale Adumim.
The plan was slammed at the time as “worrying” by the United Nations Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov.
Critics say building in the Givat Hamatos and Har Homa areas of the southeast of the capital will effectively cut Palestinian neighborhoods in the city from Bethlehem in the West Bank. Most of the international community considers settlement construction a violation of international law.
The Palestinians want the West Bank — seized by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War — for a future state, and view East Jerusalem as their future capital.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.