The Israeli panel that authorizes West Bank settlement construction approved nearly 4,500 new housing units in the area on Thursday.
The Higher Planning Council gave its approval on Thursday for 4,427 housing units in the West Bank. The authorization of 2,791 of the units is final, and the other 1,636 are for construction submitted for public comment prior to final approval. The plans include legalizing two previously unauthorized outposts: Mitzpeh Dani and Givat Oz VeGaon.
At Thursday’s session, the council approved 25 construction plans, which include 56 units in the isolated settlement of Negohot in the South Hebron Hills and 534 units in Shvut Rachel, which is also located beyond the major blocs of West Bank Jewish settlements. The council approved 364 units in Dolev, 761 in Betar Ilit and 156 in Kiryat Arba, just outside Hebron.
Another 500 housing units in Elkana, near the 1967 border with central Israel, received approval for filing for public comment, as did 192 units in Sha'arei Tikvah, just north of Elkana and 286 units in Kedumim, in the northern West Bank.
The council, which is affiliated with the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank, had last convened in October, when housing was also approved for Palestinians in Area C, the portion of the West Bank under full Israeli control. At the time, approval of Palestinian housing along with housing in Jewish settlements prompted major criticism among settlement residents. According to one source who spoke to Haaretz last week, there are also current discussions regarding approval of additional housing for Palestinians.
The United Nations' Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, condemned the council's decision, saying in a statement that "continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population."
Thursday’s council session came after Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved the meeting last week. It was one of the conditions set by Nir Orbach of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party for remaining in the coalition.
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“Construction in [settlements] is not a decision to be made by a foreign party, senior as he might be,” Orbach said after the announcement of Thursday’s meeting was issued. “Anyone who doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to build in Judea and Samaria is welcome not to come,” he added, using the biblical term for the West Bank.
Following the announcement, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, also of Yamina, said, “Construction in Judea and Samaria is a basic thing – necessary and obvious.”
Left-wing Knesset members in the governing coalition and civil society organizations were critical last week of plans for new settlement construction. Meretz Knesset member Gaby Lasky called it “contrary to international law” and said that it damages future prospects for an agreement with the Palestinians.
The organization Peace Now, which opposes the settlements, called the decision “a direct continuation of the incompetence in the face of settler violence and weakness in the face of the lawbreakers at Homesh,” a reference to a settlement that Israel evacuated and that was reoccupied.