The World Zionist Organization’s settlement division has recognized a neighborhood called “Leshem” in the West Bank settlement of Alei Zahav as a new settlement altogether, arguing that the government had not done so before for “technical-political” reasons. This development was revealed in a letter written by Yuval Funk, the division’s deputy director.
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Alei Zahav is a secular settlement located close to Route 5, which links Ariel and the Greater Tel Aviv area. Close to the hill on which it is situated, another hilltop was slated for construction of 650 housing units. The plan was approved in 1985, and construction was begun by the Central Company for the Development of Samaria. Following the outbreak of the first intifada, demand for housing there plummeted and dozens of the first units were abandoned, left in their first stages of construction for 25 years.
In recent years, the Samaria regional authority revived construction on this hill. A separate communal association called Leshem was established, and housing there was marketed separately from that in Alei Zahav, targeting a religious population. In practice it remains a neighborhood of Alei Zahav.
Even though only the government is authorized to establish new settlements, the WZO’s settlement division started treating the place as a new settlement unto itself. One of the immediate implications of this is the application of the law regarding admission committees vetting new residents. An amendment to the law in 2014 allows a settlement to have such a committee if it is smaller than 400 families. Any expansion of the settlement comes under the law’s jurisdiction as well.
Even though the number of families in Leshem and Alei Zahav has exceeded 400, Leshem still has an admissions committee. In January, a family from the adjacent community of Peduel applied for residency and was rejected by this committee. The family has appealed to the WZO’s settlement division based on the illegality of the process.
Based on deputy director Funk’s letter it turns out that the settlement division is in the habit of independently approving new settlements at its discretion. “We treated Leshem as a new settlement, even though it was apparently established within the boundary of Alei Zahav, since for technical-political reasons it was recognized as such by the government. Leshem is an independent community, managed separately from Alei Zahav. As long as there aren’t 400 families there they will have an admissions committee. One shouldn’t stick to formalities and tie Leshem to Alei Zahav, since that is not the real situation. On a municipal and social level these are two separate communities,” says the letter.
The settlement division has responded by stating that they are not bypassing any law regarding admissions committees. “We do not decide what constitutes a settlement, only the government does.”