Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir / TPS

by Andrew Friedman

Leaders of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria said Wednesday that they intend to push Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to capitalize on a supportive White House to significantly increase building in the region. Settlement leaders said they were “patient” during a de facto building freeze in the region during the Obama administration, but they added an expectation that the prime minister would present plans to respond to growing demand for homes both inside existing settlement blocks and in outlying communities.

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“For the past four years . . . we have been understanding that the administration in the United States insisted that we freeze construction,” said Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat and head of the foreign desk of the Yesha Council of Judea and Samaria communities. “That created a very troubling reality in real terms. There is demand, and a need for, many more building permits than we received this week.”

“Among other things, we want to see solid plans for development projects that we can present to our residents as an answer to their needs, which have grown over the years, Revivi added.

The meeting between the prime minister and settlement leadership takes place against the background of the expected approval of about 2,600 building permits, including approval for the new Amichai settlement, the first new community to gain government approval in 25 years. Amichai will house residents of the former community of Amona who were evicted from their homes in early February. Netanyahu praised the approval, saying it was a “ privilege, after dozens of years, to be the first prime minister to build a new settlement in Judea and Samaria.”

But settlement leaders say the approvals fall far short of development needs, both for “natural expansion of” existing Judea and Samaria communities and to alleviate severe housing shortages in both the Tel Aviv area and in the ultra-Orthodox sector.

To answer that need, Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant tabled a proposal Tuesday for a massive construction program for approximately 67,000 new housing units, mostly to be situated in the western Samaria foothills, a short drive from Tel Aviv. Galant presented the plan to the Knesset’s Interior Committee, and told the Hebrew-language Yedioth Ahronoth that “construction on the western ranges of Samaria is a strategic security need and will be very helpful in solving the housing problem in central Israel.”

Yesha Council Deputy Director General Yigal Dilmoni, who was a member of the team that drafted the plan, said: “For years an attempt has been made to find a “supertanker” for the problem of housing prices in Israel, and if we would only look eastward we would find a solution that is a mere ten minute drive from Gush Dan. Western Samaria is an area with a diverse population, and it is suitable for religious [Jews], secular [Jews] and Haredi [Jews], and with no special effort, simply by advancing construction plans, it will be possible to build tens of thousands of housing units in the new part of Gush Dan. A planning vision that faces east should be the new world view that ought to be instilled in the governmental bureaucracy.”

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