Israel advances plans for 5,700 settlement homes, breaking annual record in 6 months

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Israeli authorities advanced plans for some 5,700 new settlement homes on Monday, in just six months shattering the record for most West Bank houses for Jews green-lit in a single year.

The 13,082 homes that have been advanced through a pair of major planning stages thus far in 2023 are more than the previous record of 12,159 homes, which were green-lit in 2020 when Donald Trump was US president and his administration proposed a peace plan that envisioned Israel annexing all of its West Bank settlements.

Among the projects advanced on Monday by the Defense Ministry body that authorizes West Bank construction were ones retroactively legalizing three illegal outposts close to the settlement Eli.

Nof Harim, Hayovel, and Palgei Mayim are illegally built outposts established in 1998 and 1999 without government authorization and in contravention of the designated use for the land on which they were built. Nonetheless, the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee green-lit plans for 754 new homes to be built in the three outposts.

Eli was the site of a terror shooting last week that left four Israelis dead, sparking days of reprisal attacks in the West Bank and settler operations to set up new wildcat outposts. Following the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Israel would deepen its roots in the West Bank in response to the shooting.

Most of the plans advanced Monday made it through the earlier planning stage known as “deposit,” but 818 homes received the final planning approval that is required before construction can begin. They included a project for 359 new homes in the northern West Bank settlement of Elkana and a plan for 381 new homes in the nearby settlement of Revava.

Another 809 homes for the Eli settlement were advanced through the deposit stage, along with 714 homes for Givat Ze’ev, 340 for Ma’ale Adumim, 312 in the Beitar Illit, 310 for Adora, 264 for Etz Efraim, and 152 in Ma’ale Amos. Most of those homes will be located closer to the Green Line.

The figure advanced on Monday dwarfed the 4,427 advanced in all of 2022, when a more moderate unity government was in power and willing to heed the Biden administration’s position against further entrenching Israel’s presence in the West Bank.

The body of a Palestinian terrorist is seen covered in a black plastic bag at the scene of an attack in which four Israelis were killed at a gas station near the Eli settlement in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The US warned Israel against advancing the latest batch of settlement homes, after Jerusalem announced its plan to do so last week. The June 18 announcement led Morocco to cancel its plans to host the second-ever ministerial summit of the Negev Forum next month.

But Israel’s hardline government, which contains a significant number of the settlement movement’s most ideological supporters, appears determined to use the opportunity to shut the door on the possibility of Palestinian statehood, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a more primary goal is to secure a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.

The Netanyahu government also passed a resolution that gives practically all control over planning approval for construction in West Bank settlements to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, himself a settler and an impassioned advocate of the nationalist movement. That decision dramatically expedites and eases the process for expanding existing West Bank settlements and retroactively legalizing some illegal outposts.

Illustrative: A cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 12, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/ POOL)

A US official told The Times of Israel last week that the settlement advancements “taint” efforts to secure such a normalization deal, as Riyadh remains determined to use the agreement to advance Palestinian sovereignty.

This was the second time that the Defense Ministry panel convened to authorize new construction since the Netanyahu government was established on December 29. It typically convenes between two and four times each year.

The advancement of 7,349 homes in February drew massive international uproar and a joint statement of condemnation from the UN Security Council.

The Peace Now settlement watchdog said Monday that the latest approvals “make it clear that the government is rushing headlong towards an annexation coup, turning Israel into an apartheid state.”

The Yesha umbrella body for settlement mayors thanked the government for the approvals and characterized them as the “appropriate Zionist answer” to recent Palestinian terror attacks.

The international community, along with the Palestinians, considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate, and an obstacle to peace. Over 700,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — territories captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

“The Netanyahu government is moving forward with its aggression and open war against the Palestinian people,” said Wassel Abu Yousef, a Palestinian official in the West Bank. “We affirm that all settler colonialism in all the occupied Palestinian territories is illegitimate and illegal.”

The Biden administration has been increasingly outspoken in its criticism of Israel’s settlement policies. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the settlements “an obstacle to the horizon of hope we seek,” in a speech to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC.

Border Police officers stop Israeli settlers from entering the Palestinian West Bank town of Turmus Ayya, June 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Despite the criticism, the US has taken little action against Israel. In a sign of its displeasure, the White House has not yet invited Netanyahu for a visit – as is customary following Israeli elections.

And this week, the US said it would not transfer funds to Israeli institutions for science and technology research projects in the West Bank. The decision restored a longstanding policy that had been canceled by the pro-settlement Trump administration.

Ahead of Monday’s vote, Cabinet Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf, a member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, played down the disagreements with the US.

“I think the alliance with the US will remain,” he told the Army Radio station. “There are disagreements; we knew how to deal with them in the past.”

Meanwhile, Simcha Rothman, another far-right member of the governing coalition, accused the Biden administration of having a “pathological obsession” with the Israeli government.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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