IN DEPTH: Potential settlement plans would create first blocs outside barrier route

If executed, plans for 14,866 units outside security barrier route would change geography of how Jewish building occurs in West Bank.

West Bank security barrier wall 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
West Bank security barrier wall 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Potential plans for the construction of 20,000 new Jewish homes in the West Bank, if executed, would create the first new settlement blocs in close to two decades, and for the first time ever, place them outside the route of the security barrier.
It would also have expanded the planning scope of the internationally controversial E1 project in the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, also known as a bloc, from 3,500 projected homes to 4,700. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, however, on Tuesday immediately froze attempts to expand the E1 project.
For at least the last decade Israel’s governments have focused most of theirattention on building in the settlement blocs, in areas it believes will remain part of the country in any final status agreement. Those areas are all within the route of the security barrier, which has often also marked Israeli thinking with regard to West Bank areas that it would possibly retain.
In the first half of this year, for example, 75% of the housing starts, 1,100 units, were located within the five largest West Bank settlements all located within the route of the security barrier. According to the Central Bureau of Statics in 2012, half of the settler population, lived in these five settlements.
The Ministry of Construction and Housing’s new plans for which technical design tenders were published late last month and made public on Tuesday, mark a shift from that policy. The plans focus mostly on building up areas of the West Bank whose status has been more tenuous, that is, areas outside the route of the barrier, which also means that the areas marked for construction are outside of the blocs and further away from the pre-1967 lines.
There are 14,866 homes in these plans slated for areas outside the barrier route.
While Israel has in the past approved building in isolated settlements outside the barrier, those plans have not been on the same scale as those the ministry is now contemplating and which Netanyahu has asked the ministry to put on hold.
If executed, the plans would change the geography of how Jewish growth and building occurs in the West Bank, and place large population centers far away from the pre-1967 lines.
The Construction and Housing Ministry has explained that it has preliminary designs for 650,000 homes across the country, of which only a fraction will ever see the light of day. That is particularly true for West Bank settlements, where many plans are shelved and even those which are advanced are still rarely approved.
Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel has tried unsuccessfully for the last two decades, for example, to gain approval to build in E1 and the technical planning phase of that project is light years ahead of these new 20,0000 homes.
Even if the technical work for these homes were approved, it would still take years before the projects were ready to build and would need additional approvals from the prime minister.
But once the homes in the plans were fully built up, two new settlement blocs would have been created, both in the Binyamin region.
The new plans include designs to build 7,500 homes in the Kochav Ya’akov settlement, located outside of Ramallah, in the Binyamin Region, 7.7 kilometers from the pre-1967 lines.
Such a plan, once approved and totally built up, could add 30,000 people into the Kochav Ya’akov settlement that now has a population of 6,467, transforming it into a fifth West Bank Jewish city.
A second bloc would be created by the combination of new construction in the Shiloh settlement, located 27.1 kilometers from the pre-1967 lines, and the nearby Eli settlement, located 23.7 kilometers into the West Bank.
The Shiloh plans call for  2,500 new homes, a move that could add 10,000 people to a settlement with a population, as of 2012, of 2,706.
In Eli the plans would add 2,000 new homes, a move that could see 8,000 people move into the community which has a population of 3,521.
In addition, there are a number of other plans which would double and triple the size of existing West Bank settlements outside the route of the security barrier.
In Mitzpe Yeriho, the plans would add 1,000 new homes, a move that could add 4,000 people into a settlement with a population of 2,115. Mitzpe Yeriho is located 15.3 kilometers from the pre-1967 lines in the Binyamin region.
In the Gush Etzion region, 8.4 kilometers away from the pre-1967 lines, the plans call for building 1,182 homes in the Tekoa settlement, a move that would add close to 5,000 people into a settlement with a population of 2,518.
Also in the Gush Etzion region, 6.5 kilometers from the pre-1967 lines, there are plans to add 840 homes to an area of the Efrat settlement, that is located outside the planned route of the barrier, that cuts through the 7,812 member community.
Within the route of the barrier, there were three large plans of note. The ministry is looking to build 1,000 homes in an unbuilt area of Gush Etzion called Gevaot, that technically falls within the municipal boundaries of the Alon Shvut settlement.
At present there is almost nothing there save for an educational facility. In December the Defense Ministry advanced plans to build 523 homes at the site, where the Gush Etzion Regional Council hopes to eventually secure permits to build a city with thousands of housing units.
In Ma’aleh Adumim, the third largest West Bank settlement, with a population of 36,862, there are plans to add 2,500 news homes, including through an environmental program that would destroy small structures in favor of large apartment buildings. Included in the plans would be designs to build up the empty area next to the Mishor Adumim industrial park.
Separately, the ministry sought a way to push forward the E1 project, located in an unbuilt area of the settlement, which is slated for the development of 3,500 homes. Last year, Netanyahu approved to deposit plans for those homes, which Kashriel says have since been frozen. The ministry now wants to expand the scope of that project, by adding in another 1,200 homes. Netanyahu immediately froze those plans.
E1 has been a particularly internationally controversial project because the Palestinians want to develop that area as part of a corridor that would swing down from east Jerusalem to Jericho, and sideways both toward Ramallah and Bethlehem.
Israel sees the area as important to preserving a united Jerusalem and believes development of E1 would not harm the Palestinian plans. But in light of international pressure, it has not approved construction there.
Other projects the ministry included in its plans for 20,000 homes are: 600 for Neve Tzuf, 500 for Ma’aleh Levona, 358 for Ma’aleh Amos, 350 for Nahliel, 300 for Dolev, 300 for Nili, 200 for Psagot, 200 for Bat Ayin, 150 for Kochav Hashahar, 160 for Asfar, Nokdim 146 and 100 for Rimonim.