AMICHAI, West Bank — The Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction advanced plans for some 1,300 West Bank homes Wednesday, capping off a week which saw the green-lighting of over 2,600 homes.
Included in the plans that gained final authorization for building by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee were projects for the evacuees of the illegal Migron (86 units) and Amona (102 units) outposts.
The two communities were demolished in September 2012 and February 2017, respectively, after the High Court of Justice ruled they had been built on private Palestinian land.
The Peace Now settlement watchdog highlighted those two approvals in a Wednesday statement lambasting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. “The government of Israel is sending settlers a clear message: you can build illegally and steal private Palestinian lands and we will take care of providing adequate compensation. Netanyahu has decided to only serve the settlers, and to hell with the rule of law, the future of Israel and the chance for peace.”
Also among the 1,232 West Bank housing units advanced by the Civil Administration subcommittee Wednesday were 459 homes in Ma’ale Adumim.
While the plan gained what is referred to as “validation,” — typically the final approval required before construction can begin — the settlement city’s size requires it to go through an additional stage where the homes are marketed by the Housing Ministry to private contractors who are then responsible for carrying out the construction.
But despite the advancing of plans for some 1,300 settlement homes for the second day in a row by Netanyahu’s government, settler leaders staged a press conference outside his Jerusalem residence on Wednesday, demanding an improvement in West Bank infrastructure to prevent future terror attacks.
Four chairmen of regional and local settler councils were joined by members of bereaved families who lost loved ones in terror attacks that took place on West Bank roads.
Threatening to stage a sit-in outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in the next two weeks if funds were not immediately allocated for what they referred to as “security necessities,” the bereaved family members and settler leaders specifically called for the installation of cameras along roads throughout the West Bank, the installation of cell phone towers to improve reception for settlers who may need to call for help, and the paving of bypass roads around Palestinian towns and settlements to allow the populations to avoid each other.
Hadas Mizrachi, whose husband Baruch was gunned down in an attack near Hebron while en route to a family Passover Seder in April 2014, said that the terrorist admitted during his trial to have “specifically looked for a place to carry out the shooting where there was no phone reception.”
“We have reached a place of serious distrust with our government. Two years ago, we were promised these security improvements, and since then, there have been more attacks and nothing has changed,” Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan said frustratingly.
On Tuesday, an official in Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office confirmed the ministry’s intention to roll out a security package for West Bank settlers next month worth NIS 3.3 billion ($939 million). The package is expected to include many of the demands raised by the settlers and bereaved families outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Wednesday.
While Dagan said he was pleased to have learned about the plan, he emphasized that funds for it still had not been allocated. “Security is not ensure through these announcements, but through actions,” he said.
“If we do not see real change in the next week or two, I will return here [to protest] with my children because this is the only way to prevent the next attack. I am now raising five children on my own and nobody else should have to go endure what I have,” said Mizrachi, representing the bereaved families present.
But Liberman emphasized that such infrastructure improvements take time. Speaking to reporters Thursday at the construction grounds of the new Amichai settlement for Amona evacuees, the Defense Minister assured that his office is working to gather the money for the West Bank security project.
“These things don’t happen overnight, but this security package is the first all-inclusive one that will address a broad range of needs for residents in Judea and Samaria,” Liberman said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.
All together, 2,646 housing units were advanced this week by the Civil Administration; 1,323 homes were given final approval for building.
Included in the 1,292 green-lighted Tuesday were 562 units located outside the so-called “settlement blocs” that Israel has vowed to retain under any future peace deal, with mutually agreed land swaps with the Palestinians. Among them were plans that gained final approval for settlements that lie deep in the West Bank, such as Nokdim (146 units) and Rehelim (97 units). This is in addition to projects in Tomer (55 units) and Maskiot (27 units) that are in the Jordan Valley.
Also among Tuesday’s approvals were 17 temporary homes for the residents of the illegal Netiv Ha’avot outpost, which is slated to be razed in March.
The homes will be located just outside the Alon Shvut settlement in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, but they will only be permitted to remain for three years.
In addition to the 2,646 housing units advanced through planning stages were 296 homes that gained approval from the Civil Administration to be marketed for sale in Beit El, thus fulfilling a promise that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made to the evacuees of the settlement’s illegal Ulpana outpost, which was razed in 2012.
On Monday, a separate Defense Ministry body — the Civil Administration’s Licensing Subcommittee — granted building permits building permits for 31 housing units for the Jewish settlement in Hebron.
This was first time in 15 years that Israeli construction has been approved in the flashpoint West Bank city and was seen as an Israeli response to the recent decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to list Hebron’s Old City as an endangered Palestinian world heritage site.
Nonetheless, Hebron’s Palestinian municipality is expected to petition against the decision in the coming weeks, claiming to have a protected tenancy status over the land in question.
Defense Ministry officials say a total of roughly 12,000 housing units will be passed through various stages of approval this year, four times the amount in 2016.
In a response to the plans for settlement homes advanced on Tuesday, the European Union called on Israel to reconsider.
“The European Union has requested clarifications from Israeli authorities and conveyed the expectation that they reconsider these decisions, which are detrimental to ongoing efforts towards meaningful peace talks,” an EU statement said.
The bloc voiced particular concern about proposals for Hebron and about the start of preparatory groundwork in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos.
Construction in Givat Hamatos would “severely jeopardise the contiguity and viability of a future Palestinian state”, the EU said, adding that it would continue work with international and regional partners to try to restart dialogue.
A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned on Tuesday the latest batch of settlement homes that were advanced by Israel through various stages this week, saying they were in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
“This settlement assault comes at a time when the administration of US President Donald Trump is exerting effort and creating the conditions that will pave the way for making a real peace,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh said.
Speaking with The Times of Israel, a White House official struck a more mild chord. “President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements and the administration has made clear that unrestrained settlement activity does not advance the prospect for peace.”
“At the same time the Administration recognizes that past demands for a settlement freeze have not helped advance peace talks,” the official concluded.
While in the early days of the Trump administration the White House insisted that settlements were not “an impediment to peace,” during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in February, the president told the prime minister that he’d like him to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” and said in a Hebrew newspaper interview that settlements are “not a good thing for peace.”
AFP contributed to this report.