Israel Set to Advance Plans Next Week for Some 2,000 New Homes in West Bank Settlements

Government postponed planning meeting two weeks ago at request of White House, to ensure it didn’t sabotage Trump-Abbas meeting in New York

Construction work in the new West Bank settlement of Amichai, June 20, 2017.
RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

Israel’s Civil Administration is expected to advance plans as early as next week for up to 2,000 new homes in West Bank settlements, a senior government official said on Sunday.

Most of the plans in question will simply be moving onto another stage of the planning process, the official said, with only a few tenders for immediate construction slated to be approved. If the plans aren’t advanced next week, they will be right after the Sukkot holiday ends on October 11, the official added.

Due to understandings the government reached with the Trump administration on restraining settlement construction, the Civil Administration’s Supreme Planning Committee meets to discuss construction plans in the settlements only once every three months. Its last meeting was in early June.

The committee was supposed to meet two weeks ago, but that meeting was postponed. The Yesha Council of settlements and settlement supporters in the cabinet and Knesset were upset by the postponement, since all of them had pushed for the meeting to be held on time.

The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that at Sunday’s security cabinet meeting, the ministers were told the planning committee’s meeting has been postponed several times at the White House’s request.

The goal of these postponements was to make sure the committee’s meeting didn’t clash with the UN General Assembly or the various diplomatic meetings that surrounded it.

For instance, the committee’s agenda was originally supposed to be published on September 19, a day before U.S. President Donald Trump met in New York with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The senior official said the White House asked the Prime Minister’s Office to postpone publication of the agenda so it wouldn’t sabotage the Trump-Abbas meeting, and the PMO agreed.

The agenda is now slated to be published this Tuesday, the official said, so the committee can meet next Tuesday, before Sukkot begins. If the agenda isn’t ready by then, the committee will meet the following week, immediately after the seven-day Sukkot holiday ends.

The agenda will apparently include several different plans covering up to 2,000 new homes. Most of these plans are still only partway through the planning process, so approval would merely advance them to the next stage.

However, a few are ready for final approval, which would allow the land to be marketed to contractors for immediate construction.

One plan expected to receive final approval is for the construction of another 300 homes in Beit El, which the government promised to settler leaders more than five years ago, following the demolition of illegally built homes in the settlement’s Ulpana neighborhood.

A senior official said that over the next two days, final talks will be held to decide whether to add or remove certain construction plans from the committee’s agenda.

At Sunday’s security cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also briefed ministers on his meetings with Trump and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi last week, on the sidelines of the General Assembly. Netanyahu said the U.S. administration has asked Israel to advance several infrastructure projects that would benefit the Palestinians.

The ministers discussed these projects on Sunday, the senior official said, but no vote was taken.

Some ministers also asked about the status of a plan to build additional homes for Palestinians in the West Bank city of Qalqilyah. They were told that this plan, which was initially approved by the security cabinet but then frozen due to pressure from the settlers, remains frozen for the time being.