Israel is conducting a land survey between the settlement of Efrat and the area to its east with an eye toward declaring state land there, according to a document submitted by the state to the High Court of Justice last week.
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According to the document, the survey has been undertaken “in a manner that will create contiguity of state lands.” Efrat is in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the southern West Bank, and the area to its east is known as Givat Eitam.
Construction in the area could have diplomatic implications because it would expand Gush Etzion east to the outskirts of Bethlehem.
In 2009, 1,700 dunams (425 acres) of land in the Efrat region were declared state land. Haaretz reported on a plan at the time to build some 2,500 housing units there.
Peace Now then petitioned the High Court to force the state to make public any intention to move ahead with construction plans in the area by allocating land rights to Efrat.
Last year then-Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel sought to make progress with the plan.
In its response to the petition, the state told the court that early this year the Efrat Regional Council requested permission to undertake planning in the area with an eye to build there, and that no response was forthcoming. The council noted that some of the land at Givat Eitam is privately owned by Himanuta, a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund.
The state pledged to make public, 30 days in advance, any intention to allocate land at Givat Eitam to Efrat for the purpose of advancing building plans. But this did not apply to the private land in the area belonging to Himanuta, the state said.
“The intention is to promote in the future development of Himanuta lands. To this end, infrastructure (roads, pipelines, etc.) must be installed between Himanuta lands westward toward Efrat, including lands that have been declared [state lands] at Givat Eitam,” the document reads.
“The installation of this infrastructure will be possible if and when the land survey now underway is completed in the area between Efrat and Givat Eitam in a manner that creates contiguity of state lands.”
The document is also signed by the supervisor of government and abandoned property in the West Bank, Yossi Segal, and the defense minister’s aide for settlements, Kobi Eliraz.
Following the state’s response to the Peace Now petition, the group said such an expansion “would damage Israel and be destructive to the two-state solution. The state’s announcement of the intention to expropriate land to build a road connecting the planned settlement illustrates the true path of the Netanyahu government.”
But the Efrat Regional Council thinks otherwise.
“It is symbolic that precisely on the day marking the destruction of the Temple some are trying to sabotage the building of the Land of Israel,” it said, referring to the fast day of Tisha B’Av, which falls on Sunday.
“The legal clarification of the status of lands in the Eitam neighborhood has been underway for 12 years,” the regional council said, adding that “at the High Court of Justice at least five different panels of justices have come to realize that there is nothing of substance in the claims of the petitioners, who have dragged the state into a waste of money and costly resources in unnecessary proceedings.”
The council said it was “happy about High Court rulings in previous petitions, and we are happy that the state is seeking to redress an injustice of years.”
It added that at Givat Eitam there were “hundreds of dunams bought by Jews even before the establishment of the state and registered to the Jewish National Fund in trust for the Jewish state.”
The council said that construction at Givat Eitam fulfilled the will of these Jews, and that the “great bonus is mainly for young couples who cannot afford to purchase an apartment in Jerusalem and its environs.”
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories confirmed that its “blue line team” in the Civil Administration – consisting of cartographers, surveyors and legal experts – was now “working to study the status of lands at Givat Eitam, and a decision on their status will be rendered at the end of the team’s work.”