Disguised as Charity, Israeli Firm Enlists Lawmakers' Support for Establishment of New Settlement

The United Jerusalem Fund is selling plots in the future settlement of Mitzpeh Yehuda, but there aren't any government plans for its construction

Construction underway in the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, December 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

Despite its misleading name, The United Jerusalem Fund is not a charity organization. Nor is it a right-wing group or an offshoot of a political party.

The United Jerusalem Fund is a construction company in every way. The so-called fund, an entirely for-profit entity headed by Gad Gabriel, advances projects like the new settlement of Mitzpeh Yehuda, also called Givat Adumin, on a hill adjacent to Ma’aleh Adumim in the West Bank.

The company's officials point to a government decision from the 1980s calling for a settlement on the spot, but no concrete government plans for such a settlement exist, and promises to build there are ephemeral. Meanwhile, the company markets the land it owns on the hill, offering buyers building rights in the settlement, should it one day come into existence.

Every parcel of land for sale is worth 130,000 shekels ($36,000) according to the company’s prospectus, but its value will soar to 315,000 shekels if it will suddenly become possible to build there. By way of assurance, the company shows the deed of commitment from the previous Gush Etzion council head, Davidi Perl, verifying that the company purchased some 417 dunams in the area and promises that the council “encourages the advancement of planning and development of the parcel.” It also “aspires for the parcel to be approved according to every residential and building law.”

But promises are one thing and reality is another. Meanwhile, designating this hill for a new settlement seems far in the future.

Clearly, the company’s interest in preparing the ground for building is that doing so will transform it from selling plots near Ma’aleh Adumim into building units on 417 dunam. The company has been lobbying politicians in the Knesset to allow construction.

Dozens of lawmakers have signed the letter of support passed around by the United Jerusalem Fund. At first glance, the petition seems like a declaration by a right-wing organization or a regional council. “We see it as an obligation, right and mission to provide Israeli citizens with attainable housing solutions, and support every enterprise making this possible,” it reads. “We support the Israeli government’s 1984 decision to build Mitzpeh Yehuda to help thousands of families to find affordable housing in the suburbs of the capital, Jerusalem.”

Signatories include Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, Science Minister Ofir Akunis and Ayoub Kara, a minister in the Prime Minister's Office; Deputy Interior Minister Yaron Mazuz; and many legislators from Likud, Habayit Hayehudi, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Kulanu. A partial list includes Yoav Kish, Oren Hazan, Avraham Nagosa, Michael Malkieli, Yaakov Asher, Uri Maklev, Yoav Ben-Tzur, Moti Yogev, Menachem Eliezer Moses, Yitzhak Vaknin, Akram Hasoon, Miki Zohar, Sharren Haskel and Shuli Moalem. If the lobbying proves effective, the lawmakers will discover that they didn’t support a right-wing organization but instead made Gad Gabriel much richer.

Some signatories told Haaretz that they don’t know what the petition was about. “I don’t remember what it is, but if I signed I am not alone,” MK Kara of Likud told Haaretz. “If I signed, I asked if other ministers had signed before me and they told me yes.” MK Zohar made a similar statement.