Israel okays temporary homes for residents of outpost slated to be razed

Defense Ministry body grants final approval for buildings in nearby Alon Shvut to house Netiv Ha’avot evacuees, pushes ahead with other projects

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

View of homes in the Netiv Ha'avot outpost in the Etzion Bloc. September 2, 2016. (Gerhson Elinson/Flash90)
View of homes in the Netiv Ha'avot outpost in the Etzion Bloc. September 2, 2016. (Gerhson Elinson/Flash90)

Israel advanced a handful of building projects throughout the West Bank Monday, including a plan to build a temporary community to house evacuees from the illegal Netiv Ha’avot outpost that is slated for demolition next month.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee granted final approval for 15 temporary homes to be built for the 15 families whose homes are set to be razed on March 6.

The temporary homes will be placed adjacent to the nearby Alon Shvut settlement, which is also located in the Gush Etzion bloc. They will be allowed to stand for three years until a more permanent solution is reached for the 15 families.

The High Court of Justice ordered the homes razed after accepting the petition of a group of Palestinians who argued the homes had been partially built illegally on their land.

The approval of the plan comes on top of an additional legal effort by the state to minimize the damage of the looming demolition. In January, the Defense Ministry body authorized a package of preliminary building permits for 7 of the 15 homes sanctioned for demolition.

An aerial photograph of the Netiv Ha’avot outpost. The areas colored in blue were deemed by the High Court to be state land. The 17 structures that stand on the non-shaded areas have been sanctioned for demolishment. (Courtesy)

The plan represents a last-ditch attempt by the Defense Ministry to save a majority of the homes after the High Court rejected a compromise proposed by the residents to cut off the “problematic parts” of six homes that only jut onto private Palestinian land by a matter of meters.

The proposal has yet to receive final approval and still faces a number of legal hurdles.

Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman praised the authorization in a Monday statement, but called on the government to prevent the demolition of the outpost altogether.

In light of the approval of the temporary hilltop community for the Netiv Ha’avot families, Army Radio reported Monday that the outpost residents will be filing a request to delay the March demolition to provide time for the homes to be built near Alon Shvut.

The 18 plans advanced Sunday were deemed either “non-residential” or “less significant” in terms of the number of homes approved in each one, a Defense Ministry official told The Times of Israel.

One of the homes set to be demolished in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost in Gush Etzion, September 2, 2016. (Gerhson Elinson/Flash90)

Under unofficial settlement guidelines coordinated with the White House when US President Donald Trump took office, Israel agreed that the Civil Administration committee would only meet once every three months instead of once every month. However, the Defense Ministry body has been allowed to convene more frequently to approve smaller projects such as the ones raised Monday.

Hours after the Civil Administration concluded its session, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at a Likud faction meeting that he had been in talks with the White House on a “historic” initiative to annex Israeli settlement areas in the West Bank.

However, a senior diplomatic official later clarified that Netanyahu had not actually presented the Trump administration with any specific annexation.

A White House spokesman also categorically denied Netanyahu’s comments, saying  “reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false.”

Homes in Elazar, race track in Jordan Valley

Among the other plans advanced by the High Planning Subcommittee was a project for 68 homes in Elazar, the same Gush Etzion settlement southeast of Jerusalem which counts Netiv Ha’avot as one of its neighborhoods.

The project there received final approval for construction by the Defense Ministry body. The land on which the homes are slated to be established had been seized by Palestinians for military use in the 1973 before a 1982 High Court ruling deemed such measures illegal.

The Civil Administration subcommittee advanced through the early stage a tourism project adjacent to the Jordan Valley’s Petza’el settlement, which would include a racing track and a 120-room hotel.

Also getting preliminary approval was a project for an educational campus and gas station adjacent to the illegal Mitzpe Danny outpost in the central West Bank.

The Peace Now settlement watchdog slammed Monday’s approvals, saying that the government had actually authorized the establishment of several new settlements, claiming that projects, such as the one for the Netiv Ha’avot residents are located well beyond the borders of the settlements they’re adjacent to.

“The Netanyahu government has lost all the brakes on the road to de facto annexation of the West Bank, and it continues to distance Israel from the prospects for peace and the two-state solution,” the watchdog said.


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