Seemingly inflating numbers, Liberman says 1,285 settlement homes to be approved

Seemingly inflating numbers, Liberman says 1,285 settlement homes to be approved

Defense Minister says additional 2,500 houses will be advanced through earlier planning stages; but figures on agenda for Wednesday’s Civil Administration meeting are much smaller

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and head of the Yisrael Beytenu party leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and head of the Yisrael Beytenu party leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday he would present for approval a plan to build 1,285 housing units in West Bank settlements this year.

However, the numbers provided by Liberman were nearly three times those seen on the Civil Administration committee’s agenda for the Wednesday meeting that was published last Thursday.

“The defense minister on Wednesday will present for approval by the Civil Administration Higher Planning Subcomittee (the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing building in the West Bank) an immediate construction plan for 2018 of 1,285 housing units in Judea and Samaria,” Liberman’s office said in a statement.

The committee will also seek to advance through earlier planning stages projects for 2,490 additional housing units in more than 20 locations, the statement added.

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 agenda appeared to have been updated shortly after the Defense Ministry statement to account for some of the plans that Liberman mentioned. However, large discrepancies still remained between Liberman’s statement and the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.

The Defense Minister appeared to have inflated the numbers in an attempt to appeal to pro-settler constituencies.

To reach 1,285 housing units that would be slated for final building authorization, the Defense Minister appeared to factor in over 900 homes that are set to go through an additional “marketing” stage. In this extra step in the planning process, homes are marketed by the Housing Ministry to private contractors, who are then responsible for carrying out the construction.

However, the government already counted those 900 homes as having received final approval when the Civil Administration committee met last year. Liberman seemed to have counted those homes again to reach the high figure he publicized on Tuesday.

An illustrative photo of the construction of new houses in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, on September 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

To reach the figure of 2,490 housing units slated to be advanced through earlier stages, the Defense Minister appeared to add an additional 900 homes that are set to leap through a small technical hurdle known as “deposit publication.”

After a building project is advanced through the earlier “deposit” stage of planning, there is a roughly two-month period during which the public can lodge objections to the approval. These are typically submitted by anti-settlement watchdogs such as Peace Now or private Palestinian landowners, though usually with little success.

But before the objection can be filed, an ad in newspapers must be published announcing the newly “deposited” plan. This stage does not require the approval of the High Planning Subcommittee and the projects that are published do not appear in its agendas, which is why it is difficult to know how many were advanced.

Nonetheless, Liberman counted over 900 such units that were “published for deposit” in his final tally. These are numbers that even the left-wing Peace Now settlement watchdog did not include in its ultimate total of units slated to be approved on Wednesday.

A view of construction in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on January 26, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

In addition, over 170 units Liberman included in his count of plans slated to be advanced through early planning stages were mere additions to already approved ones. For example, an approved plan for 60 homes in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement is slated to gain “deposit” approval for an additional 44 units. However, Liberman’s office counted the plan to be for 104 new units, rather than just 44.

Finally, several of the plans highlighted in the Defense Ministry statement were considerably larger than the ones presented on the updated High Planning Subcommittee agenda. For example, the plan for the settlement of Karmei Tzur in Liberman’s statement showed 227 housing units, but according to Wednesday’s agenda, it is actually for 120 units.

Such discrepancies, the reasons for which were not immediately clear, made up for an additional 300 housing units that further inflated the defense minister’s numbers.

All in all, it appeared that the number of homes slated for final approval stood closer to 350, while the number of units set to be advanced through the earlier “deposit” planning stage was roughly 1,000.

Notably, the Defense Minister stated that the 1,285 homes gaining final approval would be built “immediately” in the 2018 calendar year. However, statistics from Peace Now show that despite the final approval granted to over 3,000 West Bank housing units for construction in 2017, just 46 have actually been built.

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