Responding to a report in Thursday's Haaretz that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had approved the construction in West Bank Jewish settlements of hundreds of new housing units, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement denying the report, saying that other than the settlement of Ganei Modi'in, "almost all of the approvals are designed to upgrade existing structures," rather than new construction, as reported.
However a review of the relevant plans, as well as aerial photos taken of the sites involved, reveal that the statement from Netanyahu's office is not entirely accurate. For example, in the settlement of Nokdim, south of Bethlehem, some 70 new housing units were approved.
The agenda of the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration, which is responsible for planning oversight in West Bank settlements, refers to the work as involving the removal of mobile structures and their replacement with permanent buildings, as well as a change in zoning from designation as desert to a residential area. Aerial photographs of the area reveal that about 20 mobile homes on the site, placed their without a permit, are now being replaced by 70 housing units.
In the settlement of Tekoa, just to the west, 200 housing units in a new neighborhood were also approved. Plans for the neighborhood underwent a number of iterations. A previous plan that was approved was scrapped due to the proximity of the homes to the Nahal Tekoa nature reserve. However, on the ground, the aerial photos show 40 homes and another 30 or so mobile homes, meaning that "the upgrading of existing structures" includes a substantial expansion of the built-up area in the settlement.
In the northern West Bank in the settlement of Har Brakha, 54 units were approved, and unlike what is implied in the statement from the Prime Minister's Office, this involves new construction rather than "upgrades." The most recent plan designates the plot as set aside for future construction, but construction on the site was begun previously.
In Givat Ze'ev, a settlement just north of Jerusalem, 76 units were approved involving a private developer, Yehuda Gani. At this site as well, the units are slated for a site where there was no prior construction rather than improvements to existing buildings.
For her part, Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, an organization that opposes settlement activity, said Netanyahu is seeking to mislead the public by denying his true policy, "giving Israel and its government a bad name and severely harming its credibility."
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