Plans advanced for new settlement for Amona evacuees

Committee approves next step on the way to building 102 homes for the 42 evicted families and others

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

Evicted residents from the Amona outpost protest in front of the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem holding a sign that reads "You destroyed, (now) you (must) build", on February 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Evicted residents from the Amona outpost protest in front of the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem holding a sign that reads "You destroyed, (now) you (must) build", on February 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israeli Defense Ministry body tasked with administering construction in the West Bank on Tuesday approved a further step in the plan to establish a new settlement for the evacuees of the illegal Amona outpost.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee approved a stage known as the “deposit” of the plans for the new Amichai settlement, endorsing the construction of 102 homes for the 42 evacuated families and new families set to join them.

It would be the first new settlement in the West Bank in over 25 years.

Following the “deposit” stage is a roughly two-month period during which the public can file objections to the approval. These are typically submitted by anti-settlement watchdogs such as Peace Now or Bimkom, or private Palestinian landowners, though usually with little success.

Yet despite the progress, Amona evacuees were unimpressed.

“Unfortunately, the approval given today was just another step in a long and bureaucratic road. It will not provide a solution for the evacuees and their children in the short term as we approach the summer and the coming school year,” said Ofer Inbal, a spokesman for the Amona evacuees.

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After the debate over objections is held, the subcommittee will recommend changes to the plan if necessary and determine whether to approve it for validation. In order for the subcommittee to convene at each stage, approval from the defense minister is required.

Once validation is granted, applications for building permits can be filed.

Inbal called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to instruct the attorney general to allow the evacuees to live in temporary structures on the site as the process wends its way forward.

Last week, the head of the unsuccessful campaign to save the Amona outpost, Avichai Boaron, warned that if a temporary living situation is not approved, “We will have no choice but to uphold the agreement unilaterally and go up to the land on our own.”

Also Tuesday, the subcommittee also approved 255 housing units in the Kerem Re’im outpost east of Ofra.

Peace Now’s Lior Amichai criticized the decision as sleight of hand by the government to retroactively legalize an illegal outpost.

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“The Defense Ministry approved the planning of Kerem Re’im as a ‘neighborhood’ of Talmon when the two are considerably far away from one another,” he said. “This goes against the government’s agreement not to build outside of existing neighborhoods.”

As a goodwill gesture to the American Donald Trump administration in March, the cabinet agreed that any future construction would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them. However, ministers said, if legal, security or topographical limitations do not allow adherence to those guidelines, new homes will be built outside the current settlement boundaries but as close as possible to them.

The High Planning Subcommittee had originally been scheduled to convene last month, but Netanyahu delayed the meeting to avoid a potential dispute on the issue with Trump on the eve of his scheduled visit to Israel.

The largest plan that received final approval during Tuesday’s meeting was for 839 housing units in the Ariel settlement.

The subcommittee will be convening again Wednesday to discuss approval of an additional 14 plans, including ones in the Beit El and Ofra settlements.

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