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(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
It's hard to miss the new construction in the Kiryat Netafim settlement in Samaria.
Billboards touting attractive single-family homes for sale jut off the sides of the roads leading to the settlement, starting on Route 5 and ending within the boundaries of the religious hilltop community, which is home to some 470 people.
Here, 10.7 km. over the Green Line, one can see the outline of Tel Aviv's skyscrapers. Men were busy Thursday working on 14 new two-story yellow stucco homes. They are the last phase of a 30-home project that was begun a number of years ago.
Last week, the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria posted stop-work orders at the construction site, claiming that the homes are illegal. On Thursday, Peace Now petitioned the High Court of Justice to enforce the order.
It's the second such petition to the court this month. On August 13, Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights petitioned against 12 modular homes in the Kochav Ya'acov settlement, which it claimed had been illegally placed there.
The petitions come at a time when the diplomatic community is increasing its pressure against Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, US special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to press him to freeze new construction projects in the settlements.
Some 2,500 legal Jewish homes are now being built in Judea and Samaria, and more are being built illegally.
But as he sat in the kitchen of a neighbor's caravan in Kiryat Netafim, community spokesman Motti Ovadia said he thought the gathering international storm against settlement construction would pass.
"I don't believe they will freeze these buildings," said Ovadia, who, with his wife and small son, moved to a new home in the settlement last year from Ramat Gan.
Their homes were safe from a construction freeze, he said, because they were within the Ariel settlement bloc.
And even if that assumption turned out to be wrong, by the time any kind of a freeze would be announced, the homes would be finished and families would have moved in, he said.
Ovadia, like others in Kiryat Netafim, were more concerned about the Peace Now petition, which claims the homes lack the proper approval and that they are being partially built on private Palestinian land.
Peace Now said it had first learned of the project in March and since then construction had proceeded at breakneck speed.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said her organization had sent a number of letters to the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria asking it to act against the homes. When no action was taken, she said, Peace Now felt there was no choice but to turn to the court.
The civil administration said it had issued a stop-work order at the site and that it planned to return with more enforcement orders.
But Ovadia denied the allegations of illegality. He said that both sides would have a chance to prove their claims in court and that he was certain that the facts would show the project was legal. It has gotten all the necessary approvals on the local levels, he said.
All the maps speak to the fact that it is legal to build here, Ovadia added.
Kiryat Netafim is very careful not to build on any land whose status is questionable, he said. It called off plans to build one of the homes when it understood that it would be on land that might be Palestinian-owned.
Ovadia had harsh words for Peace Now, saying it was funded by European governments to promote a foreign policy agenda by disseminating lies.
The settlement was considering filing a countersuit against Peace Now for slander, he said.
Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika said, "This is building on an area earmarked for such in the town's master plan that was established 30 years ago.
"The houses are on town property and are not on Arab lands at all," he said. "This is our historic homeland and we have every moral and legal right to live and grow here."
But Mesika admitted that the project lacked the final signature from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, though he added that most of the homes in Israel had been built this way.
In a situation where only a single final signature is needed for a project that was initially approved years ago, it is obvious that the decision to withhold it is political and not based on legal issues, Mesika said.
In the Binyamin region on Thursday, residents of the Bnei Adam outpost lost their battle with the civil administration over three modular homes which the administration had said were illegally placed there three months ago.
The regional council honored its agreement with the civil administration and removed the homes. The three families who lived in them were allowed to remain at the outpost and have since pitched tents, according to the Binyamin Citizens Committee.