Israel advances 2,342 settler homes, capping off record year under Trump

Majority of units to be constructed deep in West Bank; projects approved for Jordan Valley outpost legalized by cabinet and town hit by terror attack

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Illustrative: Construction work in the Dagan neighborhood of the settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Illustrative: Construction work in the Dagan neighborhood of the settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Israel gave the green-light to advance construction plans for 2,342 settler homes in the West Bank, capping off a record year for such approvals since US President Donald Trump took office.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee — the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction — published on Thursday the protocol from a meeting it held earlier this month when it made the approvals.

The quarterly session was the last held during the 2019 calendar year, during which plans for 8,337 homes were advanced — the most since 2013. Each of Trump’s nearly three years in office saw an increase in settlement approvals, with 6,742 green-lit in 2017 and 5,618 advanced in 2018.

Under unofficial settlement guidelines coordinated with the White House when Trump took office, Israel agreed that the Civil Administration committee would meet once every three months instead of once every month.

Breaking from its predecessors, the Trump administration has avoided criticizing settlement construction. Outgoing peace envoy Jason Greenblatt said he refers to Israeli localities over the Green Line as “neighborhoods and cities,” while US Ambassador David Friedman has said he does not see anything wrong with Israel maintaining control over parts of the West Bank.

However, both have stated that Israel should hold off on annexation plans for the time being while Washington is gearing up to introduce the political portion of its peace plan, which is expected to face further delays with an end to the political deadlock in Israel nowhere in sight.

View of the Jewish settlement of Elazar, in the West Bank, on February 5, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Of the homes advanced through various planning stages on October 10, 719 were given final approval for construction.

Fifty-two percent of the 2,342 homes advanced will be located beyond the planned or built route of the security barrier, and deep in the West Bank.

Among the plans advanced was a project for 182 homes in Mevo’ot Yericho in the Jordan Valley. Days before last month’s election, the cabinet voted to begin legalizing the wildcat outpost.

Also advanced through an earlier stage was a plan for 382 homes in the Dolev settlement in the central West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered for the plan to be expedited after a terror attack at a nearby natural spring killed 17-year-old Rina Schnerb.

Also on Wednesday, the Defense Ministry body granted final approval for the expansion of the tunnel road that bypasses Bethlehem from the west. The Peace Now settlement watchdog speculated that the project would “dramatically increase the number of settlers in the Bethlehem area.”

(From L-R) Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman David Elhayani, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman applaud after the government authorized the legalization of the Mevo’ot Yericho outpost at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Jordan Valley Regional Council, September 15, 2019 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman lauded the approval, saying it would make the commute to Jerusalem from his municipality in the central West Bank significantly shorter and “provide a proper response for residents by reducing the suffering we experience daily [due to traffic on the road].

Peace Now called on the next government to “put a freeze on the development of settlements and to strive for immediate resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions and to end the bloody conflict based on the principle of two states for two peoples.”

All settlements are considered by much of the international community illegal and are built on West Bank land that the Palestinians see as part of their future state, but Israel distinguishes between those it has approves and those it has not.

AFP contributed to this report.

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