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Some 1,700 dunams of land in the northern part of Efrat were declared state land last week, paving the way for the West Bank settlement to start the process of seeking government approval to build there.

The Civil Administration issued the declaration after rejecting eight appeals by Palestinians against the move. A ninth appeal was accepted, and the land covered by this appeal was consequently removed from Efrat's jurisdiction.

However, construction is still a long way off. First, the Civil Administration must formally allocate the land to the Housing Ministry, which, under new rules adopted by Ehud Olmert's government, cannot be done without approval from both the prime minister and defense minister.

Then the Housing Ministry must give Efrat's local council a permit to start the usually long planning process, which involves securing permits from various agencies. Only then can the work of building some 2,500 housing units in the Givat Ha'eytam neighborhood begin.

Since the outcome of the elections makes it likely that the next government will lean more to the right than the current one, Efrat plans to wait until the new government takes office before submitting its request.

Efrat, with around 9,000 residents, is the largest settlement in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, and Givat Ha'eytam is the last unbuilt hill of the seven within the town's jurisdiction. Despite being the hill nearest Jerusalem, Ha'eytam lies outside the planned route of the separation fence, which has yet to be built in this area.

Gush Etzion is one of the settlement blocs that all Israeli governments have said they want to retain under any final-status agreement with the Palestinians.