The Defense Ministry body that authorizes construction in the West Bank green-lighted plans Thursday for 4,427 new homes in settlements.
The 25 plans in the file were advanced by the Superior Planning Subcommittee of the Civil Administration. More than half of the homes received final approval for construction.
While some of the projects are for settlements located near the Green Line, other plans that have been approved are located in settlements deep in the West Bank. These include a 56-home project in Negohot, which has advanced through an early planning stage known as a depot, and a 534-home project in Shevut Rachel, which has advanced to the final planning stage.
In addition to approving thousands of new homes, the plans retroactively legalized the outposts of Mitzpeh Dani and Oz V’gaon. The former is a wild neighborhood of the Ma’aleh Michmash settlement in the heart of the West Bank, while the latter is a nature reserve and educational center that was built after the kidnapping and murder of Israeli teenagers Gil-ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrach. and Naftali Fraenkel in the summer of 2014.
In a celebratory tweet in response to news of Mitzpeh Dani’s approval, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked called it a “day of celebration for the settlement movement.”
In addition to settlement construction, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Thursday that the panel would also approve plans for some 1,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank.
Tor Wennesland, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, condemned the Israeli decision.
“I condemn today’s decision by the Israeli authorities to advance plans for more than 4,000 housing units in settlements in the occupied West Bank. These include the retroactive approval of two illegal outposts and a park,” Wennesland said in a statement. “The continued expansion of settlements further entrenches the occupation, encroaches on Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population.”
Projects for both Palestinians and Israeli settlers will be located in Area C, where Israel maintains civilian control. Approximately 330,000 Palestinians and 450,000 Israeli settlers live in the 60 percent of the West Bank that constitutes Area C, according to figures from the UN and Israeli authorities, respectively.
The approvals come about a month before Joe Biden is due to make his first visit to Israel and the West Bank as president of the United States. His administration urged Jerusalem not to go ahead with the authorizations and issued a statement of condemnation last week.
“The Biden administration has been clear on this from the beginning. We strongly oppose settlement expansion that exacerbates tensions and undermines trust between the parties,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said during a phone briefing with reporters. “Israel’s program of expanding settlements profoundly damages the prospects for a two-state solution.”
Criticism of the committee’s work also came from the settler movement, some of whom complained that some 1,800 projects in various stages of approval were removed from the agenda.
The settler umbrella group Yesha Council said that among those removed were 180 houses in the Mevo’ot Yeriho settlement in the Jordan Valley.
According to a Channel 12 report over the weekend, Israeli officials told the US that approval of the new settlement housing was crucial to keeping the current governing coalition alive.
As the coalition teeters on the brink of collapse following the departure of Yamina MK Idit Silman last month, other lawmakers from the right-wing party have demanded that the government move forward with such measures in exchange for them remaining in government.
In recent years, Israel has approved new settlement lots on a quarterly basis, though gaps between Higher Planning Subcommittee meetings have sometimes been longer during sensitive diplomatic periods. The committee operates under the Civil Administration of the Defense Ministry, which manages construction in the West Bank in areas under full Israeli civilian control.
According to the report, the initial plan was for a total of 5,800 homes, which was reduced to 4,000 after talks with US officials.