Israel Vows to Advance 'Strategic Plan' to Develop South Hebron Hills

Several large construction plans, including industrial parks, medical center and housing units, designed for hot-button area of West Bank under close watch by United States, European Union.

Mairav Zonszein

The Civil Administration in the West Bank has promised to advance a “strategic plan” to develop the South Hebron Hills region.

The promise was made in an internal document sent a few months ago from the office of the then-head of the Civil Administration, Brig. Gen. David Menachem, to the head of the Har Hebron Regional Council, Yochai Damari. In this document, the administration promised to advance several large construction plans for the region, including industrial parks, a medical center and houses. The document was sent following a meeting between the two men in January.

The news comes as the United States and European Union are warning Israel not to go through with the demolition of Sussia, a Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills, and turn it over for use by the Israel Defense Forces. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said he has not made up his mind about Sussia’s fate.

The Civil Administration plan calls for two industrial centers in the area – one, earmarked for shops, near the settlement of Tene Omarim, and the second, for “logistical needs,” near the Palestinian town of Tarqumiya. The area already has one industrial center, near the settlement of Otniel. According to the plan, the new industrial centers will serve both settlers and Palestinians, as well as nearby towns within Israel.

Asked what stage of the planning process this plan has reached, the Civil Administration responded, “No plans for building these centers have been submitted to the planning agencies.” Thus it seems the plan is only in its preliminary stages.

Nevertheless, last year, the administration task force charged with mapping the West Bank to locate additional potential state lands did map the areas where these centers are likely to be built.

The medical center, to be built near the settlement of Adorayim, would also serve both Israelis and Palestinians.

The document states that the plan also includes new housing, but doesn’t specify how many new homes would be built or where. Nevertheless, it adds, this housing “is subject to the government’s approval” – a reservation not mentioned with regard to the industrial parks and medical center.

The Har Hebron Regional Council, located just south of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, has some 8,500 Israelis living in about 15 different settlements, most of them small. It also contains several large Palestinian towns, including Yatta and Bani Naim.

Damari told Haaretz, “We’re extending a hand to our Arab neighbors for neighborly peace, the kind that recognizes the reality down below, on the ground.”