Defense Minister Benny Gantz has frozen the advancement of housing plans for West Bank settlements as part of his reelection campaign, the Yesha Council charged, just one week before Israeli voters head to the polls.
“It seems that the defense minister is playing politics,” the Yesha Council spokeswoman said.
On Monday, 19 out of 24 of the Yesha Council members wrote a letter to the residents of Judea and Samaria, saying that Gantz had not upheld the policy of convening the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria four times a year.
What did they write in their letter?
“In the past year, there was only one planning meeting instead of four as was agreed upon and was customary until now," the letter stated.
That meeting was held in May, when Naftali Bennett was prime minister. No planning council meetings have been held since Prime Minister Yair Lapid took office in July.
Gantz had promised settler leaders he would convene the Higher Planning Council prior to elections, a move that never took place.
“In recent months, the defense minister has completely halted the further development of Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, by freezing the activities of the Higher Planning Council,” the Yesha Council charged in its letter to residents.
“Contrary to what has been said about this government approving [building] plans in a manner similar to the previous government, the data show otherwise. In the years 2021-2022, the number of plans approved dropped to a low level not seen in many years,” the letter stated.
The Yesha Council issued its statement against Gantz as President Isaac Herzog headed to the United States to meet with President Joe Biden, who is opposed to West Bank settlement construction. Israel has not adhered to the policy of holding four Higher Planning Council meetings a year since Biden took office in January 2021.
According to data from the left-wing group Peace Now, the Higher Planning Council has approved or advanced plans for 4,427 settler homes in 2022. That is an increase over the 3,645 homes the council advanced in 2021.
Overall, however, more plans were advanced in the years 2017-2020, when former US president Donald Trump was in office, compared to the last two years under his successor Biden.
In 2017, the planning council advanced or authorized plans for 6,742 homes. In 2018, the number dropped to 5,618 units, moving up to 8,457 units in 2019 and increasing to 12,159 in 2020, according to Peace Now. The 2020 number includes the submission of plans for 3,412 homes in the E1 section of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement.
The spike during Trump’s term in office followed a lean period during the last three years of the Obama administration, in which plans for 2,472 settler housing units were advanced or approved in 2014, followed by 1,245 in 2015 and 2,292 in 2016.
The settler leadership raised the issue of the slowdown in planning approvals, as part of their overall frustration with Gantz, even though it was former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who first slowed the approval process during his last months in office, which were Biden’s first months in the White House.
Gantz is affiliated with the Lapid-led coalition, even though his National Resilience Party has the support of some of the settlers. More of their votes are expected to go to right-wing parties.
The Yesha Council said in its letter that there are plans for some 6,000 homes awaiting approval and that a failure to advance them would negatively impact the development of West Bank settlements for years to come.
Gantz’s spokesman had no response to the letter.