Israel advances plans for 3,122 settler homes on day of Israel-UAE vote
The approvals took place as the Knesset passed a historical peace deal with the United Arab Emirates, which had required Israel to suspend West Bank annexation.
The settlement Kfar Eldad is seen from above.
(photo credit: GUSH ETZION REGIONAL COUNCIL)
Israel advanced and approved plans for 3,122 settler homes on Thursday, thereby putting a temporary end to claims that a de facto freeze on such activity existed.
The Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria approvals marked the end of a two-day meeting during which 5,288 plans were approved or advanced.
This included plans to enlarge by 962 homes some of the 15 enclaves that, under US President Donald Trump’s Vision for Peace, would be situated within a future Palestinian state.
Plans were advanced for 320 homes in the West Bank settlement of Metzad, also known as Asfarr. This included the authorization of the Pnei Kedem outpost, where 120 of those homes would be situated.
Plans were also advanced for 286 homes in Har Bracha, 157 in Telem and 199 in Yitzhar.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov immediately called for a cessation of all settlement activity, warning that it harmed peace overtures to the Palestinians.
“Settlement construction is illegal under international law and is one of the major obstacles to peace,” he said.
“This significant number and location of advancements is of great concern to all those who remain committed to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace,” Mladenov said.
“Such moves undermine the prospect of achieving a viable two-state solution by systematically eroding the possibility of establishing a contiguous and independent Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel,” he said.
“I call on the authorities to immediately cease all settlement-related activities.”
But the text of the UAE deal the Knesset debated also gives tacit support to US President Donald Trump’s “Vision for Peace,” which allows for such annexation and for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state.
EFRAT COUNCIL head Oded Revivi welcomed the approvals as proof that settlement activity could continue despite the burgeoning Israeli normalization deals with the UAE and Bahrain, as well as others that would be brought forward in the future.
“The annexation might seem far nowadays, but Trump’s peace plan – peace to prosperity – allows us to build and expand,” Revivi said.
Regional Council heads also welcomed the approvals and advancements, which included 1,335 units for the Binyamin region, 1,100 for Gush Etzion and 1,000 for Samaria.
They were granted after an eight-month stretch in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not convene the Higher Planning Council.
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan said that news of the approvals means that “this is a holiday. Given that sovereignty was not applied, we have to increase the pace of construction until there are one million residents in Samaria.
“Alongside our great happiness, I want to ask the prime minister not to stop here,” Dagan said. “The joy at the large amount of construction is just a drop in the sea. Now that sovereignty was removed from the table, we expect a tenfold strengthening of the settlements and their construction.”
Dagan, along with Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Ganz and Gush Etzion Council head Shlomo Neeman, were still careful to thank Netanyahu.
Neeman added an enthusiastic “Mazal Tov” upon hearing of the authorizations.
The Yesha Council, which had worked hard behind the scenes to ensure that the Higher Planning Council convened, was careful not to include Netanyahu’s name in its statement welcoming the construction.
It also called for a million residents in Judea and Samaria, compared to the some 450,000 who live there now.
The statement also asked that West Bank settlement building not be used as a “bargaining chip” for peace agreements with the Arab world or for any other matters.
In spite of the authorizations, Elhayani told the Knesset Channel Thursday that the time has come for the Likud Party to replace Netanyahu.
At issue for Elhayani was the extent to which the UAE deal called for the suspension of West Bank annexation and gave a nod of approval to the Trump peace plan, which allows for the creation of a Palestinian state.
He said he planned to remain in the Likud Party, but that the time had come for the party to put forward a strong right-wing leader and not someone like Netanyahu, who acted more as if he is a US governor.
THE LEFT-WING group Peace Now, which monitors settlement building, said that the number of approvals included some retroactive authorizations, so that the actual amount of plans for totally new homes stood at 4,948. Out of those, 2,260 were advanced and 2,688 were approved.
This year, according to Peace Now, Israel has advanced or approved plans for a total of 9,333 settler homes.
It is the largest number of plan advancements since 2013. That number does not include plans for some 3,196 settler homes that were deposited this year for construction in the controversial E1 area of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement.
The amount of planning does not match the actual amount of new construction in the field, which is low this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first half of the year, ground was broken for only 474 settler homes.
Peace Now charged that a high proportion of new plans were located outside of the settlement blocs.
“While Israel reels from its second lockdown and economic distress, Netanyahu is promoting construction in isolated settlements that Israel will have to evacuate,” the NGO said.
“Instead of taking advantage of the agreements with the Gulf States and promoting peace with the Palestinians, he is distorting Israel’s priorities and catering to a fringe minority for these settlement unit approvals that will continue to harm future prospects for peace,” it said.
“The move is the first major demonstration of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s bowing to the ‘Greater Israel’ settlement agenda, which would in reality bring about a permanent undemocratic one-state reality,” Peace Now said.
It warned that Israel has an “end to the concept of a two-state solution and a Palestinian state.”
Netanyahu in return tweeted a new article with a headline that the authorizations favored isolated settlements.