Israel Retroactively Okayed Illegal Settlement Construction

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Construction in Ofra, June 16, 2011.Credit: Gili Magen-Cohen

The Housing Ministry subsidized retroactively the illegal construction of dozens of housing units in the West Bank settlement Ofra. As Haaretz reported on Wednesday, nearly a third of the state’s budget for subsidized housing has been transferred to the territories since Uri Ariel became housing and construction minister two years ago.

Also, according to figures released by the ministry, 28 percent of the housing units subsidized by its rural construction administration over the past four years were built in the settlements – even though the settlements comprise only 10 percent of the communities on the map of national priority areas.

Ofra, for example, received 1.7 million shekels for building 66 apartments, at the cost of about 27,000 shekels per apartment. This means buyers had to add 194,000 shekels to the subsidized development costs.

The funding was authorized by the ministry’s rural construction administration on December 18 2013. But the construction work had begun without authorization or permits already three years earlier.

The Amana settlement movement, which is responsible for massive illegal construction in the territories, started extensive construction work in an area that was confiscated from its Palestinian owners and given to Ofra at the end of 2010.

In April 2011 Palestinians claiming to be the owners petitioned the High Court of Justice against the construction on their land. In June 2011 Justice Miriam Naor issued an interim injunction banning construction work on the site.

Several homes had already been inhabited before the injunction was issued, while dozens of others were stuck in various construction stages.

In January 2014 the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration approved the construction retroactively and signed a master plan for the area. The Housing Ministry claims it only passed on the money after a valid master plan had been submitted.

But according to reports issued by the ministry, the construction began in 2011, which means the ministry officials knew it was going on without a permit.

Haaretz’s analysis of the information that the ministry published about the subsidies provided over the past four years shows the state assisted in the construction of 8,800 housing units, 2,400 of them in the settlements. The total cost of the subsidy for building in the settlements during those years was 184 million shekels ($46.7 million) – 35 percent of the development budgets that were provided.

Funds from numerous budgets have been diverted to the settlements since Ariel of Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party took office in March 2013.

The Housing Ministry said on Wednesday that the master plan for Ofra, on which the ministry based its approval for the development costs, was released in January 2014 but had been valid since December 2013.

The ministry subsidizes the public development – not the construction – and began doing so only after the master plan had been approved, it said.

“If there was illegal construction ... before the master plan had been approved, then the local authority is responsible for it. The authority’s duty is to enforce the law and prevent illegal construction,” the ministry replied.

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