Israel to advance plans for over 2,000 new settlement homes

Majority of those to be green-lit through various planning stages are outside the generally accepted ‘blocs’; number lower than 3,000 promised by PM last week

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

A construction site at Shvut Rachel in the West Bank on May 1, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
A construction site at Shvut Rachel in the West Bank on May 1, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

The Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction is slated to green-light plans for over 2,000 Israeli homes in the West Bank this week.

On Saturday, the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee published the list of projects for 2,061 homes that will be on the docket when it convenes on Wednesday and Thursday.

The number is significantly less than the 3,000-plus that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted would be advanced beyond the Green Line, when he spoke at a campaign event ahead of last week’s Likud leadership primary.

Moreover, only 786 homes will be granted final approval for construction, with the remaining 1,275 slated to only be advanced through a series of planning stages.

However, the total figure to be green-lit this week is on par with the 2,084 homes that were approved on average at each of the quarterly sessions during 2019.

The vast majority of 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 slated to receive final approval for construction is for 258 homes in the central West Bank outpost of Haresha, a move that retroactively legalizes the community of roughly 50 families founded in 1998.

The government has 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 534 homes in the central West Bank’s Shvut Rachel near Shiloh are slated to be 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.

It called on Israel’s next government to freeze construction beyond the Green Line and enter negotiations with the Palestinians to achieve a two-state solution.

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