PM urged to OK Betar Illit construction

Economic Affairs Committee calls to speed up approval process for 560 new apartment units.

Beitar Construction 224. (photo credit: Courtesy [file])
Beitar Construction 224.
(photo credit: Courtesy [file])
The Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee called on the prime minister Wednesday to speed up the final approval process for 560 new apartment units in the haredi city of Betar Illit, which is located less than a kilometer over the Green Line. In April, Shas leader Eli Yishai said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised to allow the building of 877 units in the city. But so far only 317 units have been approved. Nonetheless, the 317 units are the second largest West Bank project to be approved this year. The project is topped only by Olmert's authorization of 550 units in a 750-unit haredi project in the mixed settlement of Givat Ze'ev. These two projects make up the bulk of newly approved construction in Judea and Samaria this year. While construction is ongoing in many settlements across the West Bank, it is based on old permits. Only a smattering of small-scale projects have been approved in non-haredi settlements, of which one of the largest has been 100 new homes in the Mevo Heron settlement. That permit was a result of the voluntary evacuation of an outpost just outside the settlement. MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman (UTJ), who addressed the Knesset Economics Committee on Wednesday, took the government to task for failing to approve the remaining 560 units in Betar Illit. "This is all politics," Litzman told The Jerusalem Post. "There is no other reason to delay the approval." According to Litzman, the additional 560 units were approved by the Housing Ministry and the Defense Ministry, but had stalled in the Prime Minister's Office. "This has two major side effects," explained Litzman. "First, it causes prices to rise in Jerusalem because people can't move out of the city and into Betar Illit. And second, it implies a certain level of uncertainty as to the status of Betar Illit, as if there were any question about building there as part of the policy." Litzman requested that the committee hold a follow-up meeting at the start of the next Knesset session, in late October, to assess whether there had been progress in the Betar Illit project, as well as in other projects approved in 2008. The international community, as well as the Palestinians, have criticized Israel for building in the settlements. They charge that such construction harms the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians toward a final-status solution. In addition they have said that such construction prevents the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state. When asked about Betar Illit, Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said, "the policy of the government is to allow for construction inside existing settlement communities and within the built-up areas [of those communities]. Within that framework [construction in] Betar Illit is possible. It is only 400 meters from the Green Line." Betar Illit Mayor Meir Rubinstein said he was hopeful the government would authorize the additional permits. About a 20-minute drive from Jerusalem, Betar Illit is the third largest settlement in the West Bank and one of the fastest growing ones. Only Modi'in Illit, also a haredi settlement and located just over the Green Line, is expanding at a faster rate.