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272 West Bank settler homes approved, settlement of Ofra gets 'master plan'
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
07/01/2014
Peace Now attacks decision saying it exemplifies Netanyahu's "obsession with settlement building."
 
The Civil Administration authorized 272 new homes for settlers this week and gave the Ofra settlement a boost of legitimacy by approving the first-ever master plan for the West Bank community since it was created in 1975.

“After 40 years of waiting, this is a celebration,” Ofra secretary Sami Karsenti said on Monday night. Both he and Peace Now spoke with The Jerusalem Post about the approvals.

Ofra is located 15 kilometers over the pre-1967 lines in the Binyamin region. It is outside the boundaries of the security barrier and is considered an isolated settlement.

Ofra is considered a legal settlement under Israeli law because the government approved it in the 1970s, even though it fails to meet all the technical criteria for an approved community.

A master plan for the settlement of 3,400 people was never approved and as such its buildings are considered unauthorized. The settlement’s situation is particularly complicated because many of the homes are situated on land that is privately owned by Palestinians.

It is government policy in 2014 not to approve building on private Palestinian property.

Left-wing groups have in past years filed a number of petitions against homes in the settlements, hoping to create a precedent that could be applicable throughout the West Bank of taking down homes on private Palestinian property within a settlement.

The master plan that the Civil Administration approved on Sunday covers a small portion of the settlement located on state land, in an area of the community that was formerly part of a Jordanian military camp. It retroactively legalizes 53 already existing homes and another 35 that are under construction.

There is an existing court case against those 35 homes.

It also approved a plan for 162 new homes, the first such permits in many years for the community, which has been unable to build because of its unique status.

Karsenti said that absence of a master plan had become particularly problematic in the aftermath of the 2005 government- sponsored report by attorney Talia Sasson that spoke of the legality problems in Ofra.

Separately this week, the Civil Administration authorized the building of 22 homes in the Karnei Shomron settlement, located 9 kilometers over the pre-1967 lines and within the boundaries of the security barrier.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said last month that he would approve new settler building in conjunction with the release of 26 prisoners at the end of December.

The US and a number of European countries have urged him to refrain from announcing more building, particularly given the effort underway to achieve a framework agreement by April.

Palestinians have said that Jewish building, on land that they believe will be part of their future state, demonstrates that the Israelis have no interest in peace.

Israel has rejected Palestinian and international calls for a settlement freeze. In July it approved the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners in four stages during the nine-month negotiation period. But it stated that it would continue to build during the negotiations.

Israel made building announcements in conjunction with two past releases. The Civil Administration’s actions this week follow the third prisoner release, last week.

It is expected that more announcements will follow.

Peace Now attacked the decision, noting that neither settlement would remain part of Israel in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians.

“With Kerry in the region preparing to present a framework agreement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has once again exemplified its obsession with building in the settlements.

“A government that is seeking a two-state solution would not further entrench the conflict by building in the settlements, and especially in settlements that have no chance to remain under Israeli sovereignty,” it said.

Long time left-wing activist Dror Etkes said he plans to file a petition to the High Court of Justice against the master plan.

Defense Ministry officials said that all approval had been in the pipeline for a long time, and that there was nothing new in this week’s actions.

They added that more approvals would be needed before more building could happen.
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