The High Court of Justice is set to decide whether land near Bethlehem will be allocated for an expansion of the Efrat settlement or blocked due to demands by local Palestinians during a hearing on Monday.
At issue is a project on a 124-hectare (306-acre) tract of land on a hilltop in Efrat known as Givat Eitam, which would help increase the population in the settlement of 11,400 to that of a city closer to the size of Ma’aleh Adumim. The project dubbed E2 is twice the size of Ma’aleh Adumim’s E1 project that would involve the construction of 3,500 apartment units.
While the land would reportedly double the size of Efrat, it would infringe on an area which Palestinians from the Bethlehem area want to use for development as the rest of the city is largely surrounded. The land would also impact territorial continuity between Bethlehem and the southern West Bank.
Peace Now claims the allocation of land to Efrat is illegal
The left-wing NGO Peace Now claims that the declaration of the land as belonging to the state is illegal and that the Palestinians need the land much more than Efrat does.
"The decision to allocate the A-Nakhla lands for the purpose of expanding the Efrat settlement is illegal, immoral and immeasurable in a way that screams to the heavens," said Peace Now. "The implementation of this plan will severely harm not only the Palestinian landowners and the ability to develop the Bethlehem area, but also the ability to reach a future peace agreement and territorial succession for a future Palestinian state. This decision should be removed from the world and the land should be allocated for Palestinian development in the area. We will fight because the High Court judges will do justice."
The right-wing Regavim movement stressed that the land in question is in Area C, which is under Israeli control, rejecting claims of discrimination against Palestinians in the plans to give the land to Efrat.
"It is important to understand, in Areas A and B, which make up about 40% of the territories of Judea and Samaria and are under the control of the Palestinian Authority, about 70% of the space is free for planning and construction, and there is no justification for allocating even one more centimeter from Area C, which is already under a massive illegal takeover attack every day by the Palestinian Authority," added the Regavim movement.
"You want to talk about discrimination?! It is clear that in Areas A and B there is no Israeli planning and construction at all, so the claim of discrimination is completely unfounded," said the movement, adding that it hopes that the High Court will "completely reject this brazen and delusional claim."
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.