For some Israelis, Hananel Dorani and Yigal Dilmoni are not household names in today’s political and national discourse. However, if the pair, the chairman and CEO, respectively, of the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, succeed in their latest endeavor, their names will become quite familiar over the next ten years. That’s because Dorani and Dilmoni — whose names are familiar within the government — have embarked on a master plan to double the Jewish population of Judea and Samaria which currently numbers 450,000, to one million, within the next ten years. A population increase that large would make a large impact, they say, not only for the residents of the area, but for the population of the State of Israel as a whole.
Sitting in the Yesha Council’s modest office, located on a quiet, leafy street in Jerusalem’s Ramat Eshkol neighborhood, Dorani and Dilmoni expound on the idea of ‘Hazon Ha-Million’ – the ‘vision of one million’. Dilmoni unfurls a large map of the area and draws a circle around the area of Gush Dan – the country’s largest conurbation and metropolitan area. He explains that until recently, government planners never looked beyond a north-south expansion of that crowded area. Pointing to the map, Dilmoni says, “We believe that the idea of north-south expansion of Gush Dan is an incorrect way of thinking. We should begin to think of east-west expansion. “Two years ago,” he continues, “we came to the Ministry of Housing, and suggested a plan for the new Gush Dan. This entire area should go eastward, because it is a just a 30-minute drive from the center. We examined all of the settlements in this area and came to the conclusion that we could immediately begin construction of 65,000 apartment units housing units, on state-owned land.” Expanding Gush Dan, they claim, will bring down housing costs in the original Gush Dan area.
For Dorani and Dilmoni, a prospective doubling of the population in the West Bank will require major improvements in the area’s infrastructure. With both a right-wing government that is in favor of settlements, and an American administration that is more sympathetic to Israel’s needs, the Yesha Council is moving rapidly. “Our region,” says Dorani, with some degree of understatement, “is highly influenced by the political situation.”
Dilmoni explains that up until two years ago, there was relatively little infrastructure investment in the West Bank, because, he says, the government did not know the future of the area. Two years ago, after Donald Trump was elected, a change occurred, and he says, “we are taking responsibility for the area. And part of taking responsibility is to make future plans. Our vision is not only what will be in one year, but what will be in twenty or thirty or forty years, and this is what we are trying to accomplish.”
“If you look at all of the investments in infrastructure in the past 10 years, there was relatively little in Yehuda and Shomron,” says Dorani, who also serves as head of the local council of Kedumim. “Today, we are busy making master plans for electricity, transportation, water, alternative energy, industry, the economy, and the environment. If there will be four-lane highways here, it will give greater momentum to further settlement.”
The pair go to great pains to emphasize that the planned improvements and enhancements in infrastructure will benefit the entire population – both Jewish and Arab. Explains Dilmoni, “We are certain that we will be here and that we will stay forever, and we know that the Arabs will be here as well. So, when I worry about the construction of a new road so that there will not be accidents, it is not a road that will be for just for me, but rather, it will be for the Arabs in the area as well. When we add improvements in infrastructure of water and electricity, it is the same infrastructure that will be supplied to the Arab villages who live in the area. My worries and concerns for the future of the area are for the entire region. The Arabs will benefit from improvements to the roads, water, and electricity, and will enhance their well-being. When that happens, the area will be calmer.”
Dorani explains that the other major step that the Yesha Council is taking is to push for adoption of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank. He notes that while various plans have been proposed for Israeli annexation, ranging from establishing Israeli law on settlements to full annexation of the entire territory, some form of annexation is necessary, he says, to further establish a firm hold of the area. “Ten years ago,” he says, “if someone spoke about Israeli annexation of the West Bank, it sounded strange and unrealistic.” Gradually, he says, the idea took hold, and has become a legitimate part of the political discussion. He adds that the idea of two states stands in diametric opposition to that of annexation, and today, few speak about the possibility of a Palestinian state, “because we have continued to settle the area, and also since there is no partner on the other side, we are speaking of other things.”
While the popular portrayal of the West Bank population is of a large national religious bloc, Dorani says that in actuality, the population is one-third national religious, one-third haredi, and one third secular, with sizable secular numbers in the cities of Maaleh Adumim, Ariel, and in other settlements. The fact, he says, that people consider living in settlements for reasons other than ideology is a good thing. “When a person is looking for good housing, good education, and wants quality of life for his family, and comes to the settlements, and not because of ideology, that is a victory.” Says, Yigal Dilmoni, “The settlements are not reserved for the national religious population. It is for all of the Jewish people.”
“Many people – both in Israel and outside – are wondering about the future of Yehuda and Shomron,” says Hananel Dorani. “Some say, misguidedly, that we are headed towards a two-state solution. We and the rest of the state of Israel think it is going in a different direction altogether. Our job is not only to represent the residents of Yehuda and Shomron, but for all of the Jewish people, in its return to its land.”