The Defense Ministry body that authorizes West Bank construction greenlit plans on Thursday for 4,427 new settlement homes.
All 25 plans on the docket were advanced by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee. More than half of the homes received final approval for their construction.
While some of the projects are for settlements located close to the Green Line, other plans that were approved are located in settlements deep in the West Bank. These include a project for 56 homes in Negohot, which was advanced through an early planning stage known as deposit, and a project for 534 homes in Shevut Rachel, which was advanced to the final planning stage.
In addition to approving thousands of new homes, the plans retroactively legalized the Mitzpeh Dani and Oz V’gaon outposts. The former is a wildcat neighborhood of the Ma’aleh Michmash settlement in the heart of the West Bank, while the latter is a nature reserve and education center that was built following the kidnap and murder of Israeli teens Gil-ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel in the summer of 2014.
In a celebratory tweet responding to news of Mitzpeh Dani’s approval, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked called it a “day of celebration for the settlement movement.”
In addition to settlement construction, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Thursday that the panel was also set to approve plans for some 1,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank.
Tor Wennesland, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, condemned the Israeli decision.
“I condemn today’s decision by Israeli authorities to advance plans for over 4,000 housing units in settlements in the occupied West Bank. These include the retroactive approval of two illegal outposts and a park,” Wennesland said in a statement. “Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population.”
The projects for both the Palestinians and the Israeli settlers will be located in Area C, where Israel maintains civilian control. Roughly 330,000 Palestinians and 450,000 Israeli settlers live in the 60 percent of the West Bank that makes up Area C, according to figures from the UN and Israeli authorities respectively.
The approvals come roughly a month before Joe Biden is expected to make his first visit to Israel and the West Bank as US president. His administration urged Jerusalem against moving forward with the authorizations and issued a statement condemning it last week.
“The Biden administration has been clear on this from the outset. We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements which exacerbates tensions and undermines trust between the parties,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter during a phone briefing with reporters. “Israel’s program of expanding settlements deeply damages the prospects for a two-state solution.”
Criticism of the committee’s work also came from within the settler movement, some of whom complained that around 1,800 projects at various phases of approval were removed from the agenda.
The settler umbrella group Yesha Council claimed that among those removed were 180 homes in the Jordan Valley settlement of Mevo’ot Yeriho.
According to a Channel 12 report over the weekend, Israeli officials told the US that approving the new settlement homes was crucial to keeping the current government coalition alive.
As the coalition teeters on the brink of collapse following the departure last month of Yamina MK Idit Silman, other lawmakers from the right-wing party have demanded the government advance such measures in exchange for their remaining in the government.
Over the past several years, Israel has approved new batches of settlements on a quarterly basis, though gaps between meetings of the Higher Planning Subcommittee have sometimes extended longer during sensitive diplomatic periods. The committee operates under the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, which administers West Bank construction in areas under full Israeli civilian control.
According to the report, the initial plan was for a total of 5,800 homes, which was reduced to 4,000 following discussions with American officials.