Israel’s Defense Minister manages to anger EU, pro-settlement movement at same time

Defense Minister Gantz approves new settlement construction but also permits Palestinian building in Area C.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday authorized Palestinian construction in areas controlled by Israel as well as building in Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria, earning condemnation from the European Union and a pro-Israel organization.

The Planning and Building Subcommittee of the Civil Administration that manages land in Judea and Samaria approved construction plans that included an apparent agreement between Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the premier would not intervene in the decision to allow the Palestinian construction in Area C that is under total Israeli control, Globes reported.

The approval included a total of 792 housing units in eight settlements, as well as several Palestinian towns and villages in the Jerusalem area. One of the settlements is Tal Menashe, where the late Esther Horgan was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist last month, while two others are Jewish outposts that are not yet registered as settlements, but have already expanded or established permanent housing without previous permits.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Gantz’s Blue and White have been arguing over whether to legalize 46 settlements that were set up without government permission, with proceedings apparently frozen due to the Knesset dissolving last month and the country going to new elections.

The decision to approve the settlement housing brought an angry condemnation from the European Union, which issued a statement claiming the move was “contrary to international law and further undermines the prospects of a viable two-state solution.”

“At this critical juncture for peace in the Middle East, these moves are also counterproductive in light of the positive developments of normalization agreements between Israel and a number of Arab States,” the EU statement said.

“We call upon the Government of Israel to reverse these decisions on settlements and show leadership to rebuild trust and confidence between the parties, which is necessary for an eventual resumption of meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”

Gantz’s approval of Palestinian construction elicited a strong rebuke from Regavim, a pro-Israel organization that monitors illegal Palestinian construction. Regavim slammed Gantz “for ‘whitewashing’ of illegal Palestinian construction in Area C,” saying the decision was made without cabinet approval.

“Gantz ignored Israeli interests as outlined by the government,” Regavim tweeted. “Essentially, he has facilitated the methodical, organized, PA-orchestrated takeover of parts of Israel’s ancestral homeland – parts that are under Israeli jurisdiction, according to international law.”

The approvals came as settlement representatives continued a hunger strike in front of the the Knesset in Jerusalem demanding the government approve their communities so they can be formally connected to utilities.

In the ongoing battle for facts on the ground, both Israelis and Palestinians have bypassed the convoluted approval process for construction, albeit for different reasons. Frustrated with delays or construction freezes often imposed for diplomatic reasons, some settlements have simply launched construction without approval.

The Palestinians as a policy generally refuse to cooperate with the Israeli authorities who by previous agreement are responsible for construction in Area C that comprises roughly 60% of Judea and Samaria that is under total Israeli control. Area A comprises 20% and is under total Palestinian control, while the two sides share security responsibilities for Area B.

The committee approved Palestinian construction that did not receive prior approval for security and other reasons. According to Regavim, the Palestinian construction includes hundreds of unlicensed buildings in the village of Hizma north of Jerusalem, and the villages of Wallaja and Beit Jala on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

Gantz did not respond to requests from Likud Minister of Settlement Affairs Tzahi Hanegbi to delay these approvals until the cabinet is approved. Hanegbi and right-wing groups have warned that the extensive illegal Palestinian construction in Israeli-controlled areas is designed to connect a ring of towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. They claim the plans submitted for approval are laundering the illegal Palestinian construction and were budgeted by the Palestinian Authority for that purpose.

Political sources say that the issue is being discussed by Netanyahu and Gantz and that “international factors” are also involved in pressuring Israel to authorize building permits for Palestinian towns in Area C, Globes reported.