Israeli planning authorities approved the construction of 153 new apartments in West Bank settlements last week, effectively putting an end to an informal construction freeze that has lasted about 18 months.
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For almost two years now, the government has largely refused to advance new building plans in the territories, due to fear that the U.S. administration would retaliate by refusing to veto anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Security Council. The only plans that did move forward involved either legalization of existing outposts or master plans for areas where petitions to the High Court of Justice spurred the government to act.
Thus, for instance, a master plan for the Ma’aleh Mikhmash region, east of Ramallah, was advanced last November, apparently due to an impending hearing on High Court petitions, filed by the Yesh Din rights organization and local Palestinians, who are demanding that the government evacuate the nearby Mitzpeh Dani outpost. If implemented, the plan would legalize two outposts and add thousands of apartments to existing settlements.
But last week, the planning and building committee of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank approved several new construction schemes. One was a private contractor’s plan to build 34 units in Etz Efraim, near Ariel, on a 46-dunam lot (about 12 acres). Rachelim, located in roughly the same area – where 61 units were recently legalized – got permission to build 31 new units. Another plan involved replacing mobile homes in Carmel, in the South Hebron Hills, with 28 permanent apartments. And Alon Shvut, in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, received approval to build 60 new units on a 10-dunam plot.
The authorization of these new construction plans comes on the heels of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s decision to let the Gush Etzion Regional Council annex a 40-dunam compound that once belonged to a church. The compound was recently purchased by an American organization backed by right-wing American Jewish millionaire Irving Moskowitz. Haaretz first reported the sale last May.
In addition, Jerusalem’s local planning and building commission gave final approval last month for construction of 891 units in East Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood. The plan had received initial approval in late 2012, but was then put on hold.