Israel moves forward with plans to legalize dozens of fledgling settlements

Three action items will be the first step toward fulfilling the coalition agreement with Otzma Yehudit.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Minister of the Negev, the Galilee and National Resilience Yitzhak Wasserlauf is expected to present to the Cabinet Sunday three proposals to jumpstart the normalization of dozens of young settlement communities across Judea and Samaria, signaling that this part of the coalition agreement with his Otzma Yehudit faction is being honored, Israel Hayom reported Thursday.

The most important of the proposals is the long-standing plan to finally connect the small villages in Judea and Samaria to critical infrastructure. This includes linking all homes and public buildings to the national electric and water grids, to ensure a steady supply of both basic needs.

These settlements, a number of which are decades old, have never enjoyed these essentials, a deliberate omission which the minister from the right-wing Otzma Yehudit party had decried in a visit earlier this week to two such towns in the South Hebron Hills, Avigayil and Asael.

“The young settlements were established with the support of the government and it will not happen that on our watch there is no orderly infrastructure, water and electricity for residents who freeze during the cold winter days, while in the illegal Bedouin villages, the water is flowing and there is electricity for their few shacks,” he said.

Wasserlauf’s other two agenda items are the upgrading of other infrastructure and construction of public buildings in these villages, and the establishment of a division for the young settlement in his office in the near future. The latter will enable Wasserlauf to keep a close eye on the pace of the progress.

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According to Israel Hayom, the coalition agreement between Otzma Yehudit and the Likud states that within 60 days of the government’s formation, a formal government decision will be made to ratify these settlements, and that the process will be completed within 18 months.

A report in the national-religious weekly Makor Rishon earlier this month contended that the coalition agreement does not obligate Netanyahu to grant full official legal status to the young settlements within two months, which it said would be legislatively almost impossible to complete in that timeframe, considering its complexity.

What the two sides agreed on, according to the report, is to legalize the provision of basic quality-of-life amenities that all citizens deserve, including telephone and municipal services in addition to a steady supply of electricity and water.

Prior to last November’s elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel National News that “I will regulate the young settlements in my first week [in office]. The time has come to regulate it. We wanted to do it in the previous [Covid-19 emergency unity] government but I couldn’t because of [alternative prime minister] Benny Gantz, who blocked it.”

Netanyahu has been the head of several right-wing governments over the last two decades, and has made this promise before. This is the first time there are no centrist or left-wing factions in his coalition, however, and all of his national religious partners, as well as the Likud ministers, publicly back the young settlements.

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According to Israel Hayom, the cost of planning, connecting, renewing and upgrading infrastructure as well as security components will be shouldered by the government to the tune of about NIS 180 million.