Israel advances 1,292 settlement homes, hundreds more planned

Israel advances 1,292 settlement homes, hundreds more planned

Defense Ministry also approves 296 housing units for marketing in Beit El for outpost evacuees; prime minister comes under fire from right and left

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Palestinian laborers work at the construction site of a new housing project in the Israeli settlement of Ariel near the West Bank city of Nablus on January 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
Palestinian laborers work at the construction site of a new housing project in the Israeli settlement of Ariel near the West Bank city of Nablus on January 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

In its first of two meetings this week, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction in the West Bank advanced plans for 1,292 housing units Tuesday.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee also approved 296 homes to be marketed for sale in Beit El, thus fulfilling a promise that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made to the evacuees of the settlement’s illegal Ulpana outpost, which was razed in 2012.

Of the 1,292 units advanced Tuesday, 562 are located outside the so-called “settlement blocs” that Israel has vowed to retain under any future peace deal, with mutually agreed land swaps with the Palestinians. Among them were plans that gained final approval for settlements that lie deep in the West Bank, such as Nokdim (146 units) Rehelim (97 units). This in addition to projects in Tomer (55 units) and Maskiot (27 units) that are in the Jordan Valley.

In the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, 344 units were advanced for the Kfar Etzion settlement and 68 units were advanced in the Elazar settlement. In addition, plans were approved for Barkan (56 units), Nofim (170 units), Beit Aryeh (8 units) and Har Adar (10 units) — settlements that all lie west of the security barrier.

Responding to Tuesday’s approval’s the Peace Now settler watchdog said that the government has “gone wild” in approving plans “deep in the West Bank.”

The White House said the settlement building was not conducive to peace efforts.

“President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements and the Administration has made clear that unrestrained settlement activity does not advance the prospect for peace. At the same time the Administration recognizes that past demands for a settlement freeze have not helped advance peace talks,” a spokesperson said.

Included in the 1,292 houses that were advanced by the Civil Administration were also 17 temporary homes for the residents of the illegal Netiv Ha’avot outpost, which is slated to be razed in March.

The homes will be located just outside the Alon Shvut settlement in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, but they will only be permitted to remain for three years.

Netiv Ha’avot residents slammed what the government referred to as a “temporary solution” for the 15 families set to lose their homes. In a Tuesday statement, the residents referred to the Civil Administration approval as “insufficient.”

“We call upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Education Naftali Bennett, cabinet ministers and members of Knesset not to repeat the mistakes of the past in Migron, Amona, Ofra and Beit El and stop dragging their feet.”

Further criticizing the plan, Netiv Ha’avot resident Ami Gvirtzman told The Times of Israel that during meetings with the prime minister, Netanyahu had promised him that replacement homes for the ones slated for razing would still be built in the same neighborhood within the Elazar settlement. “What was approved today is completely contrary to what we were told.”

Defense Ministry workers begin moving boxes and furniture out of homes in the Ulpana outpost on June 26. (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)
Defense Ministry workers begin moving boxes and furniture out of homes in the Ulpana outpost in Beit El on June 26, 2012. (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)

The High Planning Subcommittee will be convening again on Wednesday, and — barring bureaucratic issues with the plans brought before them — will advance plans for some 650 additional housing units.

Among those set for approval are plans are for evacuees of the illegally built outposts of Migron, and Amona, which were demolished in September 2012 and February 2017 respectively, after the High Court of Justice ruled they had been built on private Palestinian land.

After blasting Netanyahu over the past several months for what he referred to as “foot-dragging” regarding its approval of the expansion plan for his settlement, Beit El Mayor Shai Alon thanked the government in a Tuesday statement. “We hope that these 300 units are just the tip of the iceberg for more housing unit approvals. As they build in Rishon Letzion, Kfar Saba, and Ra’anana, so too we should build in Beit El, Ofra and Efrat,” he said.

On Monday, a separate Defense Ministry body — the Civil Administration’s Licensing Subcommittee — granted building permits building permits for 31 housing units for the Jewish settlement in Hebron.

This was first time in 15 years that Israeli construction has been approved in the flashpoint West Bank city and was seen as an Israeli response to the recent decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to list Hebron’s Old City as an endangered Palestinian world heritage site.

Nonetheless, Hebron’s Palestinian municipality is expected to petition against the decision in the coming weeks, claiming to have a protected tenancy status over the land in question.

Peace Now said the approvals in Hebron and Netiv Ha’avot were “particularly enraging.

“They indicate to settlers that the rule of law does not apply to them and illustrate the government’s deteriorating legal standards when it comes to settlement expansion,” the NGO said.

Netiv Ha’avot residents protest the High Court decision to demolish 17 structures of their outpost, demonstrating outside the Knesset on July 17, 2017. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Despite reports of a surge in authorizations for up to 4,000 units, the exact number of housing units that the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee will be advancing on Tuesday and Wednesday will be 1,941 — with 1,196 of them up for final approval.

Settlers have expressed frustration over what they’ve perceived as an insufficient amount of housing units being green-lighted this week. Following the publishing of the agendas for the Civil Administration’s meetings this week  Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan harshly criticized Netanyahu and his government. “We need to tell the truth. The emperor has no clothes,” Dagan said in a statement, characterizing Netanyahu as dishonest for breaking previous pledges to settler leaders to advance over 3,000 housing units.

“We are tired of thanking (this government) for every bone that it throws at us, Dagan said. “The prime minister is missing a historic opportunity that won’t likely recur. There is currently a US president who, even if he does not agree (with settlement building), will not condemn it to the extent that was done during the Obama era.”

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