Peace Now: Gov't plans to enlarge settlements

Peace Now report claims new gov't may approve construction of 73,000 apartments in West Bank.

settlement ofra 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
settlement ofra 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Plans to construct 73,000 additional apartment units in West Bank settlements that would double their population size are in various stages of government approval, the non-governmental group Peace Now charged in a report it released Monday, on the same day that newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's arrived in Israel for her first visit in that capacity. Some of the unapproved plans include construction in at least six unauthorized outposts: Magen Dan, Givat Hadagan, Givat Hatamar, Bnei Adam, Bat Ayin West and Hill 26 within the jurisdiction of Kiryat Arba, according to Peace Now. Israel is obligated under international agreements to dismantle outposts and freeze settlement activity. The report was sharply attacked as baseless by the Housing and Construction Ministry, which called it "a storm out of nothing" in a short, sharp rebuttal. A government source explained to The Jerusalem Post that Peace Now had confused government plans drawn up to show the maximum building density that any site could hold, with active housing plans. Gaining construction approval is a long and protracted process, the government source said. In one instance, with respect to a controversial un-built section of the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement known as E-1, the report claims there are unauthorized plans for 3,250 apartment units. The government source said there were in fact no plans for that area - and even if there were, the approval process could take as long as 10 years. "As usual, every time that an American secretary of state comes to Israel, Peace Now tries to find something with which to ensnare Israel," said Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. "The only purpose is to embarrass Israel," he said. "This time it is really nonsense," continued Dayan, who has long complained that the number of approved apartment units in West Bank settlements does not keep pace with natural growth. In response to the claims, Hagit Ofran, who heads Peace Now's settlement watch team, noted that the source of the report was a government Web site. Using this information, said Ofran, Peace Now's report has highlighted not just approved projects, but ones that are in the process of being approved, in hopes that the plans can be thwarted before an approval is given. Under the US-backed "road map," Israel is obligated to freeze settlement activity. This has been interpreted by Israel's government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to allow for construction in settlements that sustain natural growth, particularly in areas that Israel is likely to retain under a final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority. In 2006 and 2007, slightly less than 3,000 apartment units were completed in Judea and Samaria. Still, the report, which includes east Jerusalem, speaks of plans for a massive settlement expansion of 73,000 apartment units - of which 58,000 have yet to be approved - that goes well beyond stated Israeli policy. It noted that 19,000 of those apartment units would be built in settlements located on the east side of the security barrier. The report stated that 15,000 units have already been approved on both sides of the barrier, out of which 8,950 have already been built. This means, according to Peace Now, that tenders could be published for some 6,050 apartment units with fairly little effort. Approved projects can be found in the settlements of Efrat, Ariel, Beitar Illit, Geva Binyamin, Givat Ze'ev, Ma'aleh Adumim, Immanuel, Kiryat Arba and Karnei Shomron. There are unapproved plans to construct apartment units in the settlements of Oranit, Alfei Menashe, Elkana, Gush Etzion, Magen Dan and Modi'in Illit, according to the report. In Geva Binyamin, located on the eastern side of the barrier and a short distance away from Jerusalem, there are unapproved plans for 1,880 housing units, according to the report. If these plans were to move forward, the settlement would become an outlying area of Jerusalem, the plan charged. Peace Now called on the government to halt all settlement construction and not to approve any further plans. Dayan, conversely, said he hoped that Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu would formed a government and allow construction to move forward that would respond to the existing demand in the West Bank.