Settlement leaders accuse Netanyahu of freezing construction in Judea and Samaria

The council that approves construction projects hasn’t met since February, with no date set for the next meeting.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Leaders of the Yesha Council are charging that the government has halted construction in Judea and Samaria despite several announcements of building approvals during the last election cycle.

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post on Monday, Yesha Council head David Elhayani said, “Planning has been frozen. For half a year, the council has not met. Each week, we’re told it will meet next week. We’re being played as if we’re a chip on a backgammon board.”

The Higher Planning Council (HPC) for Judea and Samaria generally meets on a quarterly basis to approve building projects throughout the region. Considering the political sensitivity of such moves, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to quietly stop the process for whatever reason, one of the easiest ways is to tell the council not to convene.

The Planning Council met two months running in the beginning of the year and advanced plans for some 7,500 buildings when its department was overseen by then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, an ardent proponent of settlements.

At least 2,000 homes are simply awaiting a final stamp of approval for construction to begin.

The Yesha Council fears that the de facto freeze is tied to Netanyahu’s suspension of the application of Israeli sovereignty to 30 percent of Judea and Samaria in exchange for diplomatic relations with the UAE.

“We demand that the prime minister convene the council immediately,” its statement said. “The prime minister has rejected sovereignty, we must move to actions on the ground and building freely, without the political permits and limitations that don’t exist in the rest of the State of Israel.”

News site Arutz 7 quoted unnamed sources Wednesday who insisted that there was no freeze.

“The plans will be brought in the near future for committee approval. Prime Minister Netanyahu has brought about an unprecedented construction boom in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and will continue to do so,” they said.

Two weeks before the March elections, Netanyahu shored up his right-wing credentials by publicly announcing many of the specifics of the approved construction. This included housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Har Homa (2,200) and Givat Hamatos (3,000).  Plans were also deposited for nearly 2,000 homes in E1, an area between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem that the right-wing has wanted to develop for decades.

These locations are particularly controversial because such construction would cut off the continuum of Arab neighborhoods within Jerusalem, and the contiguity of Palestinian territory outside the capital. For example, Givat Hamatos stands between Bethlehem and eastern Jerusalem, while E1 essentially divides the northern and southern areas of Judea and Samaria in the Jerusalem area.

At the time, Netanyahu said, “We connect Jerusalem, connect all parts of a united Jerusalem, a built Jerusalem. This is great pride and great news for all the people of Israel.”