Ministers set up task force to ease West Bank settlement construction
Task force, to determine ownership of West Bank lands, established following request by settlers.
The defense and interior ministers agreed on Monday to appoint a task force to facilitate construction in the West Bank.
A similar team, which was responsible for establishing the ownership of West Bank lands, operated until about three years ago under the auspices of the Israel Defense Forces' Civil Administration. Officials say the team's work is essential to issuing building permits in the West Bank.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Interior Minister Eli Yishai made the decision at the request of West Bank settlement leaders. The task force will consist of a geographer, a jurist and archivists.
The two also agreed to give the team a NIS 3 million budget for the coming year, to be financed by the Interior Ministry and other ministries.
Establishing the lands' ownership is intended to ensure that construction is carried out on land owned by Jews and not Palestinians, officials said.
Since the previous task force stopped working, dozens of construction plans, including those for kindergartens, yeshivas and other public structures, have been held up. Permits were issued only in special cases, and only when former prime minister Ehud Olmert intervened.
Shaul Goldstein, who heads the Gush Etzion Regional Council, said the cessation of the team's work prevented construction in the West Bank even when land was definitely owned by Jews. For example, the construction of a yeshiva high school in Kfar Etzion was held up.
"The state is harming itself by its stupidity," he said. "Jewish councils in the West Bank, which abide by the law, are obviously harmed by it as well."
Defense Ministry sources said that resuming the team's work has no political significance, and that ultimately, government policy will determine whether construction permits are granted.
Interior Ministry sources said the task force was meant to remove bureaucratic obstacles.