Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has officially authorized that the construction of hundreds of housing units in Judea and Samaria, also known part as the West Bank.
In a statement obtained by TV7 from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), over 100 of the units will be built in Tal Menashe, which was the home community of the late Esther Horgan, who was killed in a 20 December 2020 Palestinian terror attack. Muhammad Cabha, 40, of the Tura al-Gharbiya village near Jenin, confessed to the crime after being captured by Israeli security services.
200 other homes will be added to Rehalim and in Nofei Nehemia “pursuant to providing regular status for the community,” according to the PMO statement.
The Prime Minister also authorized that the construction of approximately 400 additional units in Beit El, Itamar, Shavei Shomron, Oranit, the Barkan Industrial Zone, Karnei Shomron, and Givat Zeev north of Jerusalem; which has been “submitted for approval by the [Civil Administration] Higher Planning Committee at its next meeting.”
No starting date for the construction plans of the new Jewish homes was provided, but the move anchors the Israeli government’s building projects in the waning days of the pro-settlement administration of United States President Donald Trump.
The Trump White House effectively backed Israel’s right to build West Bank settlements. The Republican leader also delighted Israeli leaders and angered some Arabs by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there, as well as Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Israel reunified Jerusalem after capturing the eastern side of the city from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, and annexed the Golan after seizing it from Syria during the same conflict.
Many countries view Israeli settlements as violating international law. Israel disputes this, citing historical, political and biblical links to Judea and Samaria, where more than 440,000 Israelis now live among 3 million Palestinians who have limited self rule.
“The construction, and the responsibility for building our country, just like the responsibility over security and the economy, belongs to our government,” said the Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council Head Yossi Dagan.
“There are important dialogues with many countries, of course the United States, which is an important friend to Israel, and Israel is an important friend to the United States. That should be left to the Prime Minister and the President of the United States,” Dagan added, while emphasizing that, “The citizens of Israel expect to be allowed to live and build and develop in a natural manner. And the responsibility to do so belongs to the government of Israel. It’s not an issue for other countries.”
Political analysts say the timing of the approval may be an attempt to set Jerusalem’s blueprint in indelible ink before Joe Biden – who has been critical of Israeli settlement policies, becomes U.S. president on 20 January. As Vice President under Barack Obama, Biden was put in an awkward position during a visit to Israel in 2010 when Israel announced plans for a settlement on contested land annexed to Jerusalem. After delaying a dinner meeting with Netanyahu by 90 minutes, Biden commented that the decision undermined U.S.-Israeli trust.
Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Reuters that Netanyahu wants the settlement move “to be set in stone before the Biden administration comes into office, and maybe changes Israeli-American tacit understandings on settlements that existed under Trump.”
Advancing the building projects could also help shore up support for Netanyahu’s Likud Party from settlers and their backers in the upcoming 23 March election, Israel’s fourth in two years, in which the conservative leader faces new challenges from the right. Netanyahu wants to signal voters that he is “the only leader who can stand up to Biden and make sure he doesn’t dictate our policy in the (Palestinian) territories,” Talshir remarked.
Palestinians, who want to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital, immediately condemned the Israel’s construction plan.
“What the Prime Minister of the occupation government Netanyahu is trying to do is to put facts on the ground. The Israeli settlements tenders are illegal and his announcement today about the new 800 colonial units escalates the aggression towards the Palestinians, we consider all settlements illegal,” insisted Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Youssef, adding, “It is an attempt to race against time and benefit, after the American elections, from the last days of the current U.S. administration before the new administration to try to put facts on the ground.”
In other major West Bank developments, the fatal gunshot death of an IDF reserve officer last night has been reported.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told TV7 that “the Israeli Police and the Military Police have launched an investigation into the circumstances of the event.”
The officer has been reportedly been identified as IDF Lt. Col. (Res.) Dr. Avi Har-Lev, who had been a resident of the the Mount Hebron district town of Sansana in Judea. His body was discovered in the Lahav forest near his home while dressed in IDF uniform after an earlier meeting with his reserve unit.
Mount Hebron Regional Council Head Yochi Dimri was cited by local media as alleging that Palestinians from Hebron who routinely pass through the Lahav forest to infiltrate Israel could have attacked the officer, and called on Israeli security forces to determine whether Har-Lev’s death was a nationalistically-motivated murder.
According to police, the assailant was injured when troops opened fire to prevent the attack. The suspect was captured and receiving medical care at the Soroka hospital in Beer Sheva.
There were no reported IDF casualties during the incident.