Barak approves new settler homes in Gevaot

First time permanent housing authorized in isolated area of Gush Etzion; Peace Now: Tantamount to creation of new settlement.

IDF soldiers prevent stabbing at Gush Etzion Junction 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman's Office)
IDF soldiers prevent stabbing at Gush Etzion Junction 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman's Office)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday authorized construction of homes and educational facilities in a small, isolated area of Gush Etzion known as Gevaot.
This marks the first time that permanent housing has been authorized in Gevaot, which is made up of caravan homes.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now charged that the approvals were tantamount to the creation of a new settlement – an allegation the Defense Ministry rejected.
Officially, on the map, Gevaot is located within the Alon Shvut settlement.
But traveling there, one feels as if he were entering another community. To get there, one has to leave the guarded yellow gate of Alon Shvut, go several kilometers down the road, turn right into a wooded area, and enter Gevaot through another gate.
The authorization to build “is the most important development that has occurred in Gush Etzion in recent years,” acting Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Yair Wolf said. He negotiated the deal for Gevaot with the Defense Ministry.
Wolf explained that all five bureaucratic phases of the project had been approved, and said he had permits to replace 60 caravans on the site with permanent homes.
He can also build educational facilities, including a dormitory, for children with disabilities, specifically Down’s Syndrome.
The Defense Ministry confirmed that the project had been approved, although its did not say how many structures could be built.
Wolf said the permits were a response “to all those who thought that new construction in Gush Etzion was frozen.”
News of the approvals comes less than a week before Tuesday’s election for regional council head. Wolf is one of three contenders for the post. The other two are Chava Shem Tov and Davidi Perel.
The announcement also comes as the PLO considers withdrawing from preliminary talks with Israel, which began last month in Jordan.
There have been no meetings this month.
Palestinians have insisted that they do not want to hold full-fledged direct negotiations with Israel before it halts all settlement activity, and Jewish construction in east Jerusalem.
Permanent construction in Gevaot had long seemed a pipe dream. Still, former council head Shaul Goldstein had worked to advance plans there.
Based on a 1982 cabinet decision, Gevaot was founded in 1984 as a Nahal Brigade settlement, in which soldiers farmed the land.
By 1997, the IDF had closed the base, and a yeshiva moved to the site. It was housed in caravans that had first been used in Haifa to house Ethiopian immigrants more than two decades earlier.
In 1998, the Construction and Housing Ministry put forward a plan to turn Gevaot into a city of 13,000 apartment units. But those plans were never implemented.
In 2003, the yeshiva moved to Efrat. But a few families remained, based on a contract with the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division.
In 2009, the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria ended that contract. Last summer, the families who lived in Gevaot lost their legal battle to remain there.
Now that Wolf, who replaced Goldstein last month, has secured construction approval for Gevaot, he is hopeful that he will obtain further permission to build elsewhere in Gush Etzion.
Peace Now executive director Yariv Oppenheimer, however, slammed the approvals.
“This is yet one more proof that the direction this government is going in, is to stop the peace talks,” he said. “They are also doing whatever they can to make it harder for the next government to pull out of the West Bank.”