Dreams of building the fifth West Bank Jewish city moved one step closer to reality on Wednesday, when the Defense Ministry advanced plans to build 523 homes in Gevaot, a plot of land in Gush Etzion.

Security sources cautioned that a final signature was needed before construction could begin.

They noted that plans for Gevaot had long been in the works, and that their advancement had nothing to do with building projects over the pre-1967 lines that had been announced in recent weeks as part of the diplomatic battle with the Palestinians.

The sources said that in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians, Gush Etzion would remain part of Israel.

Tzipi Livni, who is running in the upcoming Knesset election at the helm of a new party under her name, visited Gevaot moments before the Gush Etzion Regional Council announced that the plans could be advanced. She told reporters that she supported the development of Gevaot.

Gush Etzion Regional Council head David Perl said he believed this meant he could deposit plans for the homes with the Higher Planning Council of Judea and Samaria, and that he planned to do so within two weeks.

“After years of delays and setbacks, we were happy to hear that plans could be advanced to build a new city, Gevaot, in Gush Etzion,” Perl said.

He added that the plans’ final approval would be a major achievement and would offer renewed hope for his region and the settlement enterprise as a whole.

The four existing Jewish cities in the West Bank are Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim, Betar Illit and Modi’in Illit.

Gevaot is located within the municipal boundaries of the Alon Shvut settlement.

But to arrive there physically, one must leave the settlement and its security barrier, and drive five minutes down the road west, in the direction of Beit Shemesh. One then drives off the road and down a small paved path, passing a wooden sign that says “Gevaot” and through a security gate.

The pastoral property houses a school for young children, teenagers and young adults with disabilities, a dormitory and homes for the staff members.

Gevaot is located 1.8 kilometers over the 1949-1967 Green Line. Based on a 1982 cabinet decision, an IDF Nahal community was established there in 1984 in which soldiers farmed the land. The IDF closed it in 1996.

In 1997, the Shvut Yisrael Yeshiva moved onto the site from Efrat, but there was no permanent construction, as all the buildings were modular.

In 2003, the yeshiva moved back to Efrat, but a number of families remained, under a contract with the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division.

In 2009, the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria ended that contract. In the summer of 2011, the Gevaot families lost their legal battle to remain on the property.

In 1998, however, the Construction and Housing Ministry began plans to transform the property into a city.

According to the Gush Etzion Regional Council spokeswoman, plans for 6,000 homes on 350 hectares (865 acres) were finished in 2000 but never authorized.

The ministry eventually abandoned the project because it seemed as if the diplomatic climate would not allow for a fifth West Bank city.

Gush Etzion leaders, however, did not abandon the initiative, and continued to work on the plans for the 6,000 homes.

Peace Now and B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories kept their eyes on the project, and warned that it could move forward.

A few years ago, a B’Tselem researcher noted that Gevaot came up in civil administration protocols in October 2008 during a discussion about the size of a pending wastewater treatment facility.

Former Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein worked hard to advance the project, and focused initially on permits to build these 523 homes.

Earlier this year, when Yair Wolf was acting council head, the Defense Ministry authorized the construction of the school and 60 homes for staff.

Peace Now attacked the plans, along with news of tenders for homes in other West Bank settlements. It said that in so authorizing the construction, Israel was “waving a middle finger” at the world, adding that the decision endangered any possibility of achieving a two-state solution. •

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