Israel must start planning for a million people in Area C of the West Bank, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin and settler leaders said on Tuesday.
“This will happen – it is only a question of when,” Elkin said, adding that it could be anywhere between the next 10 to 20 years, depending on the pace of construction.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 400,000 people lived in West Bank settlements in 2016.
Dropping a word of Arabic slang, Elkin dismissed the idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
(enough) with the story of two states. There is no other option but the state of Israel, certainly between the Jordan [River] to the sea there will be one state.”
Elkin spoke in Jerusalem at a special conference on population growth in Judea and Samaria titled “On the Way to a Million,” that was sponsored by Amana, the construction arm of the settlement movement.
The current pace of housing of less than 3,000 a year, is not enough to allow for such a population spike, Elkin said. Ultimately 100,000-120,000 new apartment units are needed, he added.
Elkin urged the regional council to start preparing technical plans for growth even if it seems as if the approvals would never happen.
“If this had happened in the ‘80s, the question would not be how to get to one million,” Elkin said.
“Advance plans with all your might as if it is possible today, as if you could create a zoning plan for one thousand homes and execute it,” he said.
“If everyone does this, I believe that the numbers will become the reality of our lives.
They will change the entire outlook with regard to diplomacy security and settlements and will show everyone that there is no turning back here,” Elkin said.
Amana head Ze’ev Hever, known as Zambish, gave a rare public speech.
He explained that growth was not uniform but would occur in certain specific settlements, such as Ariel, which could double in size to reach about 40,000 people and Efrat, which could more than double, hitting a population of 20,000.
In the history of the settlement movement, its supporters have looked for markers for that moment when it becomes clear that their presence is irreversible.
Initially, “we thought that when we reached 50,000 residents in Judea and Samaria, we were done,” Hever said.
He was encouraged by the surprising statements the new Labor party head Avi Gabbay has made about the settlements, given that his movement supports a two-state solution and in the past has only supported those settlements in the blocs.
Gabbay has echoed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in stating that there was no need to uproot the settlements.
Hever said he did not believe this was just an electoral gambit.
Gabbay’s words show that “the settlements are established in the people of Israel’s heart and anyone who wants a leadership position has to say such things. I believe that this is his true intention,” he said.
Hever cautioned the residents of Judea and Samaria to remember the they were emissaries of the people of Israel and that the day “we stop listening to the voice of the people, we will not be able to fulfill our mission.”
On Monday, the left-wing group Peace Now issued a report about the increased settlement activity in 2017 noting that, to date, plans had been advanced for 6,742 new settler homes and 3,154 tenders had been issued.
Last year, plans were advanced for 2,613 homes and 42 tenders were issued, Peace Now said. In 2014, plans were advanced for 6,929 units and tenders were issued for 2,359 homes.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 2,934 settler houses actually broke ground in 2016. The numbers this year are lower. In the first half of the year, ground was broken for only 646 homes.
“The past few months have seen unprecedented developments in the settlements, causing severe damage to the chances of a two-state solution,” Peace Now said.
“Without any official declarations, the Israeli government is preventing the viability and contiguity of a future Palestinian state, while treating lands in area C as its own.
The implications of the above mentioned developments are far-reaching for Israel, the Palestinians and the region as a whole,” it added.