Israel green-lights over 1,000 settlement homes

Right-wing lawmakers and settler leaders slam directive from PM’s office to scrap plans that would have seen two outposts legalized

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 committee responsible for authorizing settlement construction on Wednesday advanced plans for over 1,000 homes in the West Bank, with hundreds more expected to be put on the market in the coming days.

Of the 1,004 homes green-lighted by the Civil Administration’s High Planning subcommittee, 382 gained final approval for construction while 620 cleared a planning stage known as a “deposit.”

The Defense Ministry is also slated to approve hundreds of homes for “marketing,” an extra stage required for projects in larger settlements. According to a Civil Administration official, these projects include ones in Alfei Menashe east of Kfar Saba and Ma’ale Efraim in the Jordan Valley.

Earlier in August, over 500 homes were approved for marketing in the Beit Aryeh settlement, southeast of Rosh Ha’ayin.

Among the plans advanced for deposit was a 370-home project in the central West Bank settlement of Adam, where Yotam Ovadia was stabbed to death in a terror attack last month. After the incident, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced he would be advancing a plan for hundreds of homes to be built in the settlement. While he did not say so explicitly, he was referring to the already existing plan advanced Wednesday.

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While most of the projects are located west of the security fence or at least west of its planned route, a number of plans are for more isolated communities.

Projects for 29 homes in the southern West Bank settlement of Otniel and 52 homes in the central West Bank town of Beit El were advanced through the deposit stage.

Plans that gained final approval for construction included one for 108 homes in the northern West Bank town of Nofim, one for 168 homes in Tzofim, east of Kfar Saba, and one for 44 homes in Ma’ale Adumim, a city-settlement east of Jerusalem that many right-wing lawmakers have proposed annexing.

There were two plans among the nearly two dozen on the docket for approval by the Civil Administration Wednesday that right-wing lawmakers said were removed at the last minute following a directive from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The heads of the Knesset’s Land of Israel Lobby, Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) and Yoav Kisch (Likud) slammed the decision and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to act with greater rigor to promote settlement, rather than doing the opposite.”

The controversial projects would have seen the legalization of two outposts. The first is near the small ultra-Orthodox settlement of Ma’ale Amos, which counts among its neighborhoods Ibei Hanahal, a cluster of some 100 homes that were built without permits. Before it removed the project from Wednesday’s agenda, the Defense Ministry body had been slated to approve for deposit a plan which would have seen the outpost legalized by demolishing the homes in Ibei Hanachal and having them rebuilt again with the proper permits.

Illustrative: Construction of new housing in the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim, September 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

A second outpost that had been slated for legalization before being dropped at the last minute is adjacent to the settlement of Kfar Adumim. The central West Bank town is planning on building an educational center that will include dormitories.

In a statement, the US State Department refrained from criticizing the approvals.

“The President has made his position on the settlements clear, and we encourage all parties to continue to work towards peace,” it said. “The Israeli government has made clear that its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the President’s concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this.”

The Peace Now settlement watchdog said the plans were an implementation of government policy, which rewards settlers for building illegally without permits, often on private Palestinian land.

“Instead of solving the housing crisis inside Israel (proper), the government prefers to deprive most of its citizens and nurture the welfare state beyond the Green Line, while giving tailwind to the annexation plans of the settler right and harming chances for peace,” said the left-wing NGO in a statement.

While the international community considers all settlement activity illegal, Israel differentiates between legal settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, sometimes on private Palestinian land.

Despite the addition of hundreds of new settlement homes in his Samaria Regional Council, chairman Yossi Dagan was not interested in celebrating.

“We are happy about every new house in Samaria, but we have to tell the truth. Hundreds of housing units are not enough for an area that constitutes 12% of the State of Israel,” he said in a statement.

“We expect the government to step in the gas, stop worrying about what they will say overseas, and develop this beautiful region.”

The Civil Administation’s Wednesday session was one of four it holds each year following a reported agreement with the White House upon US President Donald Trump’s entry to office.

At its last meeting in May, the Defense Ministry body advanced 1,957 homes, with 696 gaining final approval for construction. Roughly half of the homes advanced then will be located in isolated settlements, outside the so-called settlement blocs that most Israeli leaders argue will remain part of the Jewish state in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

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