The IDF this week signed an order expanding the municipal boundaries of the Beit El settlement to make way for a new housing project.

News of the expansion order signed by OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon was made public only on Thursday.

The expansion of the Beit El settlement is part of an agreement the government reached with 30 families who formerly lived in the Ulpana outpost on the outskirts of the settlement.

The families agreed to peacefully leave their homes by July 1 as mandated by the High Court of Justice, if the government agreed to build 300 new homes in Beit El. To accommodate a project of that size, the IDF is handing over an adjacent Border Police base to the settlement.

Harel Cohen, a Beit El spokesman, said that he did not know how many of the 300 housing units would be built on the site, but he estimated 150 to 200. Cohen said he welcomed the decision to expand the settlement, where growth has been stagnant due to the lack of housing.

Yariv Oppenheimer, executive director of Peace Now, said that to the best of his knowledge, the land on which the Border Police base was located was state land, and did not belong to the nearby Palestinian village of Dura al-Qara.

Still, he attacked the expansion plan, which he said awarded a prize to settlers from Beit El who had built the Ulpana outpost without permits on private Palestinian property.

“They broke the law, and now they are getting more space from the government,” Oppenheimer said.

He added that expanding the boundary line of a settlement also flew in the face of Israeli pledges to the international community not to take more land for West Bank settlements.

But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has supported settler construction on state land. He has, however, taken a stand against unauthorized Jewish building on private Palestinian property.

Ulpana residents have said that the High Court has never adjudicated the status of the land on which their homes were built, and simply accepted the state designation that it was private Palestinian property.

They agreed to relocate peacefully, after reaching an agreement that they believed benefitted the settlement movement. As part of that agreement, the state is relocating the five stone apartment buildings in which they lived to a tract of land in Beit El that is authorized for settlement.

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