Under international pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to withdraw his plan to build 538 housing units in the northern West Bank settlement of Itamar, sources said. Instead, the prime minister will promote a master plan for Itamar that retroactively approves existing buildings, but does not allow for the construction of new ones.
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Although established in 1984, Itamar has never had a municipal plan, meaning that none of the construction in the settlement has been legal. Over the past decade, as various entities began to demand prior approval of construction plans as a condition for installing electricity lines or building schools, officials in Itamar tried to push through plans for a regulatory framework for the community. Following the murder of members of the Fogel family in a terrorist attack there in March 2011, the state decided to advance a municipal plan for the settlement.
In the initial plan presented to planning agencies three years ago, the state sought retroactive approval for 137 existing homes as well as an expansion of the settlement by thousands of dunams through the construction of 537 new housing units, to be built with Defense Ministry approval. The plan did not address a ridge with several outposts adjacent to Itamar, where the Civil Administration has not carried out any enforcement activity.
The plan underwent the stage at which public objections were invited and is now awaiting a final hearing. A year and a half ago, Netanyahu ordered a general suspension of the planning process and of approval of new homes in West Bank settlements over his concern that the United States would decide not to exercise its veto power on resolutions aimed at Israel in the UN Security Council. As a result, the plan for Itamar also stalled.
Following the murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin in a terrorist attack in the area last Thursday, regional council head Yossi Dagan asked that the master plan for Itamar be put back on track. He also visited the settlers’ protest tent outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem for that purpose.
In deliberations at the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu decided to advance the Itamar master plan, but due to his concern over international pressure, decided to shelve the part that would have provided for 538 new housing units. The current plan only provides for approval of existing buildings in Itamar, not new ones.
Netanyahu asked Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to advance the plan, but Ya’alon said the position of army legal advisers is that the truncated plan amounts to an entirely new proposal that would have to go through the whole approval process from scratch. This would take several months due to the interval between one hearing and the next that the law provides. Netanyahu was not satisfied with Ya’alon’s response but it was decided to continue to pursue the scaled-down plan.
This week the top planning council of the IDF’s Civil Administration will also hold a separate hearing on the string of outposts on the ridge near Itamar, a location known as the Gidonim ridge.
At a meeting on Tuesday with the heads of the Yesha Council of settlements, construction in the West Bank settlements was also discussed, but Netanyahu did not agree to the settlers’ demands, noting international pressure on the matter. Last year, after the kidnapping of the three yeshiva students in the West Bank during the summer, the inner cabinet intended to approve the construction of 2,000 housing units, but this was followed by the abduction and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teen from East Jerusalem, around the time when the yeshiva students’ bodies were found, and that plan was shelved as well.