Israel advances plans for nearly 2,000 new settlement homes

Majority of units green-lighted through various planning stages are outside generally accepted West Bank ‘blocs’

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

A photograph of the construction work being done for a new neighborhood in the Ma'ale Amos settlement on June 18, 2017. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
A photograph of the construction work being done for a new neighborhood in the Ma'ale Amos settlement on June 18, 2017. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

The Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction green-lighted plans for nearly 2,000 Israeli homes in the West Bank on Sunday and Monday.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee had been slated to convene last week, but a workers’ strike caused a delay.

The number of homes advanced, 1,936, was significantly fewer than the 3,000-plus that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted would be approved beyond the Green Line, when he spoke at a campaign event ahead of last month’s Likud leadership primary.

Only 786 homes of the number were granted final approval for construction, with the remaining 1,150 advancing only through an earlier planning stage.

However, the total figure green-lighted in the two-day session was on par with the 2,084 homes that were approved on average at each of the quarterly sessions during 2019.

The vast majority of the homes that will eventually be constructed as a result of this week’s approvals will be located in settlements deep in the West Bank, as opposed to roughly 400 that will be built within the so-called blocs that most Israelis believe will be maintained in any peace deal.

Haresha outpost. (Courtesy)

Among the projects that received final approval for construction was one for 258 homes in the central West Bank outpost of Haresha, a move that retroactively legalized the community of roughly 50 families founded in 1998.

The government had failed to turn the illegal outpost into a fully recognized settlement for over two decades because Haresha’s access road is paved on private Palestinian land. However, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit submitted a legal opinion in November 2017 that authorized the expropriation, and the Justice Ministry announced a year later that it planned to build a tunnel that would reach the settlement. This came despite a ruling by Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut that said the state could not rely on a precedent set by one of her colleagues, off which Mandelblit based his opinion in favor of legalizing Haresha.

A project for 147 homes in the Jordan Valley’s Mitzpe Jericho and another for 204 homes in the central West Bank’s Shvut Rachel near Shiloh were also advanced through interim planning stages.

The Peace Now settlement watchdog protested that the approvals were being carried out by a prime minister without a mandate in the middle of a campaign for a third election within a year.

“Netanyahu, without authority and without accountability, is advancing more and more construction in the West Bank settlements at the cost of making it even more difficult for Israel to ever be able to reach a political agreement with the Palestinians,” the left-wing group said.

For its part, the Yesha settlement umbrella council lauded the approvals. “To our delight, construction in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley is commonplace and we are pleased to see that every few months plans are advanced by the High Planning Subcommittee,” the group said in a statement, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

Calling out Peace Now, the Yesha Council added that “it is time for extremist left-wing organizations to accept that the US has also declared that settlement… does not contravene international law and that applying Israeli sovereignty [in those areas] is a matter consensus in the State of Israel.”

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