Israel’s defense minister refuses to authorize young settlements

The spokesman for the Yesha Council roundly criticized Gantz’s decision.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Defense Minister Benny Gantz decided Sunday not to give initial authorization to 46 young settlements in Judea and Samaria despite the pressure of the settlement movement to get them started on their path to legalization before President Trump leaves office, Channel 11 News reported.

After meeting with the ministry’s legal advisers, Gantz said that he would not begin the normalization of their status until they put into place a framework for enforcing construction regulations. This, said reporter Roy Sharon, includes adding inspectors to the regional councils who could destroy homes built without permits, especially on what is considered private Palestinian land, and drafting the physical plans of these fledgling settlements and their boundaries.

The spokesman for the Yesha Council roundly criticized Gantz’s decision.

“Shame on him,” said Elchanan Zecharia. “Tens of thousands of Israeli residents are waiting for basic humanitarian infrastructure. The time has come to break the rules of the game.”

Some 20,000 people live in approximately 70 such settlements, many of which have been built on state land and have received at least some funding from government ministries after setting up mostly mobile homes. It is unclear what Gantz’s opinion was on the other approximately 25 settlements, since the number 46 was specifically mentioned.

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The legalization issue had been brought up in the Knesset in November, when Settlement Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said that according to his legal advisers, the way forward required “a government decision that will define the young settlements as ‘settlements in the process of regularization.’” At the time, Gantz had said, “We are not against regularization. We’re for regularization wherever it’s legally possible on state land. Illegal outposts are illegal, period.”

Right-wing leaders in general, and the heads of the Young Settlements Forum in particular, have been pressing the government especially hard in the last few months to begin the authorization process. Their two main lines of argument are that tax-paying citizens shouldn’t suffer from an irregular supply of water and electricity, and that there was a fast-closing window of opportunity granted by having a government in Washington that would not criticize the move.

Democratic president-elect Joe Biden, who is set to take office in just nine days, has often said that he is not in favor of Jewish building in Judea and Samaria, considering it an impediment to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Young Settlements Forum began a hunger strike a week ago in front of the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem to call attention to their plight. On Sunday, they were joined by Yael Shevach, the widow of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists on the road to his then-unauthorized community of Havat Gilad in 2018.

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Although the settlement was built largely on land bought by a private Israeli citizen decades ago, the status of some of the area was unclear and it was left in legal limbo. The Israeli cabinet approved its legalization in response to the murder.

“We have been shouting too long for this regulation of status,” Shevach said in explaining her decision. “We have this window of opportunity that will be gone in a moment and then we will again be left with promises that have been left in the air for far too long.”

“We are really suffering,” she said. “Now it’s pleasant [weather]…but winter will begin and again we’ll have problems with water and electricity – it’s a humanitarian issue.”

Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have begun the authorization process in any of the right-wing governments he has led over the last decade, he has never chosen to do so. He had already pointed the finger of blame at Gantz, his erstwhile coalition partner, before this official decision, for his supposed inability to act at this time as well.