Plan to Build New Homes in Israeli Settlement in West Bank Put Into Motion

Israel approved construction of Tel Zion apartments in 1980s, but developer’s bankruptcy stalled project – until now, one week before Trump visits Israel

A laborer working at a construction site in the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, February 2017.
AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

A regional council in the West Bank has begun soliciting bids to build over 200 apartments in a Jewish settlement under its authority. The news comes a week ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The Mateh Binyamin Regional Council is looking to build 209 apartments in Tel Zion, the ultra-Orthodox section of the settlement of Kochav Yaakov in the center of the West Bank. The settlement is east of the separation barrier and not part of the generally accepted settlement blocs.

The plan for homes was approved long ago, during the 1980s, and now the regional council wants to bring it to fruition. Regional Council chairman Avi Roeh, who is also chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria, confirmed that this is an old plan now being taken out of the mothballs.

He said that at issue “is a project with an approved urban plan of 1,200 units, of which 750 have been built.” The others weren’t erected, he said, because the developer went bankrupt.

Hagit Ofran, who follows settlement development for the anti-occupation group Peace Now, also confirmed that this construction is permitted under an old plan, but stressed: “Even if this was approved in the past – it’s construction.

"There are tens of thousands of units that could be built under old plans. In practice, there was no [construction] freeze and there is no freeze in the settlements. This is a large project beyond the separation barrier that will continue to undermine the two-state solution.”

Last week, Haaretz reported that the Prime Minister's Office had the Civil Administration's High Planning Committee postponed a meeting that was supposed to convene to approve building projects in West Bank settlements.

A senior official told Haaretz that Netanyahu's office asked that the meeting only take place after U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to the country on May 22 ends.

The senior official, who asked to remain anonymous, stated that the postponement was intended to avoid friction between Israel and the U.S. over the issue of settlement construction a short while before the presidential visit. This kind of friction could mar the entire visit, turn the settlements issue into a major issue in the negotiations and give the Palestinians arguments to strengthen their position during Trump's visit to Bethlehem and his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.