Netanyahu Aide Pushing Plan to Avert Diplomatic Pressure on Settlements

Plan would reclassify urban settlements as 'rural' so as to exempt construction tenders from legal obligation to go public.

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Gabi Kadosh, the prime minister’s adviser on settlement issues, is advancing a plan to exempt officially urban settlements from being obliged to publicize tenders for marketing lands. The goal is to reduce the diplomatic pressures that results from publicizing such tenders.

In the West Bank, as in Israel, there are two types of communities – urban and rural. The 33 urban communities in the West Bank include the large cities, of course, but also smaller towns with only a few thousand residents. Some of these were meant to be small towns from the start, while others were planned as larger cities but failed to grow. Thus, for example, the settlements of Eli and Har Adar both have 3,500 residents, but Eli is classified as a rural community while Har Adar is an urban one.

One of the differences between the two types of towns is the way the land is managed. In rural settlements, the land is allocated to the World Zionist Organization, which in turn allocates it to an NGO engaged in settlement activity like Amana, or to the relevant community’s cooperative association. The NGO privately selects residents, avoiding the need to issue a tender. In contrast, in urban settlements, the Israel Lands Administration must publish a tender for the plots, whether they be for individual construction or for multi-family units.

Even though tenders are published only after all the building permits are arranged, they always lead to significant construction delays, because every tender in the West Bank or Jerusalem reported in the media or on the Lands Administration website generates diplomatic protests.

Thus, to avoid a diplomatic row before the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coordinated the publication of tenders for a thousand homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. After the murders of the Fogel family in March 2011 and UNESCO’s acceptance of “Palestine” as a member state later that year, Netanyahu gave the green light to issue tenders for land that had gone through the planning process. This situation is very frustrating to the settler leadership, which feels it has to fight twice for every construction project – once for the permits, and a second time to market the land.

Following numerous protests by the council heads in the small urban towns, they and officials from the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria met with Kadosh, who proposed an alternative way to enable construction in the settlement without fanfare and international pressure. Kadosh’s idea was to change the status of the urban towns to rural ones, which would allow land allocations without tenders, reducing the potential for international intervention.

The plan was submitted this week to Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit so he could determine how to move it forward. It poses numerous legal difficulties because land allocation issues are complex. For example, a local authority, as opposed to a cooperative association, is not legally allowed to allocate land without a transparent, defined process.

The specific plan that Kadosh is trying to advance right now is the construction of 290 homes in the settlement of Elkana. The plan has been approved by the Civil Administration, but it is stuck because the prime minister is hesitant about publishing a tender at this time. If Kadosh manages to push his plan through, Elkana is expected to be the first urban settlement to go rural.

The distinctions between rural and urban communities were also targeted by this summer’s state comptroller’s report on the Civil Administration. Comptroller Joseph Shapira found that the administration did not collect any land leasing fees from rural towns, while it did collect them from urban towns. The Civil Administration claimed at the time that this was due to insufficient manpower, but the comptroller ordered the matter resolved immediately.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to this report.

Construction in the settlement of Yakir after the freeze’s end in September 2010.Credit: Nir Kafri
Settlement building, minus the tendersCredit: Haaretz
Gabi Kadosh, adviser on settlement issues.

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