A Defense Ministry panel will approve plans for over 800 new settler homes days before Joe Biden is sworn as the new US president, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, confirming an earlier report.
At a meeting next week, the Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee will approve the construction of 500 housing units in the West Bank settlements of Itamar, Beit El, Shavei Shomron, Oranit and Givat Ze’ev, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
In addition, the committee will also advance plans to build 100 units in Tal Menashe and more than 200 homes in the Nofei Nehemia outpost.
Tal Menashe, in the northern West Bank, was the hometown of Esther Horgen, who was killed last month in a terror attack. Her husband has called for increased settlement construction following her murder.
A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office later said plans for some 800 homes would be approved or advanced, including the 100 units in Tal Menashe and over 200 in Nofei Nehemia.
“We’re here to stay. We’re continuing to build the Land of Israel!” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook.
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid slammed the timing of the approvals.
“This is an irresponsible step. The Biden administration still hasn’t taken office and the government is already leading us to an unnecessary confrontation,” Lapid tweeted.
Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, appeared to link the decision to the upcoming Knesset elections.
“Even during elections, the national interest needs to be maintained. A sane government doesn’t start an unnecessary battle with a new American president,” he said.
The Peace Now left-wing settlement watchdog group also tore into Gantz.
“A defense minister without a party, public mandate or backbone failed in defending Israel’s future and is submitting to a small and vocal minority from the settlements,” Peace Now said in a statement, taking a dig at Gantz over his recent political woes.
It also claimed the moves were “meant to signal the new administration in the United States that Israel wants a conflict.”
Biden’s administration is widely expected to restore Washington’s stance against settlement construction. During an official visit by then-vice president Biden in 2010, the Interior Ministry announced that 1,600 housing units would be built in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. The declaration embarrassed Biden, as Washington was opposed to Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.
Most of the international community considers settlement construction a violation of international law. In November 2019, by contrast, the US State Department said it had concluded that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in November became the first top American diplomat to visit a settlement in the West Bank.
In a separate development, Kan reported Sunday that Defense Minister Benny Gantz wouldn’t legalize 46 wildcat outposts as settler leaders are pushing for.
Diaspora Minister Omer Yankelevich, a member of Gantz’s Blue and White party, has been lobbying to legalize outpost homes. Gantz said during a faction meeting last month that Blue and White supports legalizing outposts that are on state-owned land — even if they were built without approval.
Some 120 outposts exist throughout the West Bank. Roughly a dozen of them look like established towns with hundreds of families. About 60 outposts are small agricultural communes that often only house a handful of families with little infrastructure. A similar number of outposts are tiny “settlement points” often consisting of a makeshift structure or two where ultra-nationalist teens known as hilltop youth live.