(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a rare move, Defense Minister Ehud Barak paved the way for more settlement
construction on Monday when he approved master plans in four West Bank Jewish
communities – Nofim, Eshkolot, Rotem and Hemdat.
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The move comes on the
eve of the meeting planned Tuesday in Washington between President Shimon Peres
and US President Barack Obama.
The Defense Ministry’s settlement adviser,
Eitan Broshi, said that the move simply adjusted a technical
“We are talking about already existing legal settlements,
located on state land,” Broshi said.
“These are not outposts,” he added.
“This is a statutory change and is not a shift in policy.”
building permits were issued, and the Defense Ministry would have to issue more
authorizations before construction could begin as a result of the plans’
approval, he said. The move merely strengthens the legal standing of these
communities with respect to state funding, utilities and expansion projects in
existing homes, he explained.
But Peace Now executive director Yariv
Oppenheimer said he feared that the plans would pave the way for more settlement
“We will now have to study these plans carefully” to assess
their impact, Oppenheimer said.
“Once again the government is
capitulating to settler pressure, ignoring international relations and
Palestinian rights,” he declared.
Jordan Valley Regional Council Chairman
David Lahiani wasn’t waiting to study the matter; he was certain the plans’
approvals meant he could build.
In the small Jordan Valley settlement of
Rotem, where 25 families live in caravans because the lack of a master plan has
kept them from building permanent homes, residents opened wine bottles and celebrated on Monday
Lahiani said the approvals had helped restore the settlers’ faith
in the future, both for their community and for the Jordan Valley, even though
it would still take time for them to have real homes.
In the Hemdat
settlement, Lahiani said, the approval would allow for construction of 25 homes
that were frozen over five years ago because the community lacked a master
He noted that unlike other regions of the West Bank, the Jordan
Valley had construction permits and could build; the issue, he said, has been
more of a statutory one.
But Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika
was not celebrating. The approval of the master plan for the Nofim settlement,
he said, helped the owners of already existing homes, but did not allow for any
immediate construction in that community.
He noted that other settlements
in his region – such as Itamar, where five members of the Fogel family were
killed last month – also needed master plans.
South Hebron Hills Regional
Council head Tzvika Bar-Hai agreed that the plan for the Sansana neighborhood of
the Eshkolot settlement, near the pre-1967 border, hardly marked the end of the
road when it came to new construction, and even then one was talking about maybe
It allows plans for construction to move forward, “but there is
still a long way to go,” he said.
Oppenheimer said that in addition to
four master plans for these settlements, the Defense Ministry was also working
on approving plans for the settlements of Kiryat Netafim and Halamish, which
would authorize illegal building in both communities.
Peace Now is in the
midst of a legal battle to halt illegal building in the two West Bank
“Barak’s message to the settlers is clear – they can
continue to build illegally, and sometime down the line, whether it be five or
10 years later, eventually their construction will be authorized,” Oppenheimer