Under pressure from the settler lobby, the Prime Minister’s Office has over the past few days invested a great deal in creating the impression that a new wave of settlement construction is in the offing. But a close examination of the list of construction plans expected to be approved next week shows that despite declarations that plans for some 3,800 new homes are being advanced, the government is expected to approve only around 600 new units.
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The Yesha Council of settlements waited months for the next meeting of the Civil Administration’s High Planning Council, which was meant to convene in early September, but that meeting was postponed due to requests and reservations from the White House. According to the understandings Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached with the Trump administration, the planning council will meet every three months to concentrate settlement construction approvals and allow better coordination with the United States on the issue. The council is expected to meet next week.
On Tuesday, when the High Planning Council’s agenda was published, it emerged that there is a substantial gap between the declarations and reality. The 3,800 units presented to the public is an inflated, recycled number, with the government expected to give immediate building permits to only 600 units.
Of these, 300 homes will be in Beit El, promised to the settlement after the demolition of the homes in Ulpana Hill over five years ago. The plan has gotten all the required approvals and bids will now be solicited from contractors. There are also 86 units slated for Kochav Yaakov for those evacuated from the illegal outpost at Migron, the fulfillment of a promise made in 2012. There will also be a significant expansion of thesettlement of Nokdim, which is where Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman lives and where 146 new homes will be built. Also to be approved are nine homes in Psagot and 30 in the Jewish area of Hebron.
So what happened to the other 3,200 promised homes? All will be advanced a stage in the lengthy bureaucratic process, but building will not begin soon and these plans could easily be halted at any time by either Netanyahu or Lieberman.
Thus, for example, the planning council is expected to give final approval to several plans in “urban” settlements, including 460 units in Ma’aleh Adumim and 175 in Givat Ze’ev. Although this is the last stage of approval, actual construction will only take place once the politicians give a green light to “market” the land to contractors. Final approval will also be given for 102 homes in the new settlement of Amichai, which is being built for those evacuated from the illegal outpost of Amona. But since there has been no decision made yet on the objections that were submitted to the plan, construction isn’t expected to begin in the near future.
In several instances the Prime Minister’s Office has made a point of saying it intends to improve new construction in more isolated settlements as well, stressing that it is not distinguishing between these settlements and the larger settlement blocs. But in reality, what’s at issue is not new construction at all, but the retroactive legalization of homes that were built without the required permits. Thus 96 homes in Sansana, 97 homes in Rahelim and 75 homes in Negohot will be “laundered.”
Netanyahu and Lieberman have also sent a host of plans to the High Planning Council to be approved for “deposit,” i.e., for public comment, which is a very early stage of the planning process. In most cases at least five years passes between the deposit stage and actual construction. The plans that have been approved for deposit are mostly in isolated settlements deep in the West Bank – 27 homes in Negohot, 130 in Avnei Hefetz, 63 in Tzofim, 56 in Barkan, 55 in Tomer (Jordan Valley), eight in Beit Aryeh and 38 in Kfar Etzion.
The total of 3,800 units includes plans that were approved in the past but which have had some units added. For example, Kfar Etzion already had 120 units approved, and the 38 have now been added. The government is thus presenting all 158 as “new” homes to be approved. A similar trick was pulled in Har Adar, where 10 additional homes were added to a previously approved plan of 60 homes and together became a “new” plan for 70 homes.
That’s not the only strange matter on the list published Tuesday. In Elkana, there had been a previously approved plan for 45 homes. Now the planning council is meant to turn that plan into a sheltered housing facility for 250 elderly people. The government is counting it as 250 new homes.
Moreover, more than 1,000 of the homes that the prime minister and defense minister are touting as part of the “construction wave” are those that have been “advertised for deposit.” This is a preliminary stage, in which ads are inserted into the papers regarding the intent to submit a plan for discussion. There was no list of the locations of these plans.
Leaders of the settler lobby, like Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan and MK Bezalel Smotrich of Habayit Hayehudi, aren’t really fooled. Both have scathingly criticized Netanyahu, arguing that his claim to be advancing 3,800 homes in the settlements is merely “spin.”
The Yesha Council was somewhat more polite. “We welcome achievements that benefit the settlements, but are disappointed in the number of housing units that will actually be built,” it said in a statement. “We are aware of the pressures being exerted on the prime minister, but nevertheless, as settlement leaders it is our obligation to state the facts accurately. We’re unfortunately talking about some 700 homes for immediate construction and another 2,000 housing units at various planning stages that don’t meet the needs in the field.”
Along with religious Zionist leaders, officials in the large ultra-Orthodox settlements of Beitar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit are furious. Netanyahu had repeatedly promised to build an employment center in Beitar, which is desperate for quality jobs for its residents. Ministers Arye Dery and Yaakov Litzman have raised the issue with Netanyahu several times, and the latter would respond that Yoav Horowitz, Netanyahu’s chief of staff, was working on it and that it would be advanced soon. Despite these promises, the employment zone does not appear in the plans.
Senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office rebuffed the criticism.
“Whoever claims that this isn’t a significant improvement is misleading the public,” said one official. “Whoever thinks that we mustn’t take diplomatic considerations into account is making a big mistake. There is no one who works harder for the settlements, with determination and wisdom, than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
An Israeli official noted that at the meeting of the High Planning Council next week, plans will be discussed for areas throughout the West Bank, including places where no construction has been approved in years. “All told in 2017 there will be 12,000 housing units advanced to various stages of planning and construction,” the senior official said. “This is four times the number of 2016.”