Though leaders in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria decried the failure of Wednesday’s Knesset vote to overturn the destruction of five apartment buildings in Beit El, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a major new construction plan to erect 300 new homes in the town, with 551 additional homes approved in four other locations.
The bill was voted down 69:22, sealing the fate of 30 residences in the Ulpana neighborhood in the pastoral and mountainous Benjamin Region. Following the rejection of the bill, protesters and police clashed outside the Knesset and at the entrance to Jerusalem.
Baruch Gordon, Director of Development for Beit El Institutions, expressed his outrage at the outcome of the Knesset vote. “A great injustice is being perpetrated here against the Jews of Beit El’s Ulpana Hill, many of whom are indigenous residents of Israel for generations,” he told the Jewish Press. “The ownership of the disputed land has not been determined by any court. The Supreme court openly admits this, and says it is relying on the Netanyahu government policy decision to demolish the houses. The absurdity is that there is a simultaneous case in the Jerusalem District Court to determine who is the rightful owner.”
“The Supreme Court openly wrote in its decision that it has no patience to wait for the outcome of this legitimate district court case which may take years. It wants the buildings demolished now,” Gordon said. “This court decision is pure prejudice against the religious-Zionist public in Judea and Samaria. The court would have never issued such a ruling against Israelis elsewhere in Israel or against Arabs.”
Though indignation toward the Prime Minister’s failure to intervene on behalf of Ulpana Hill runs high, Prime Minister Netanyahu approved 851 new homes on Wednesday evening – 300 for Beit El, and 551 to be divided among Karnei Shomron, Efrat, and other locations in Gush Etzion.
In a statement made Wednesday night, after the defeat of the bill, Prime Minister Netanyahu said he is “committed to upholding the law and I am committed to uphold the settlement enterprise, and I tell you that there is no contradiction between the two.” He further stated that he believes the bill would have ultimately harmed settlement in Judea and Samaria, whereas his plan to expand the communities in areas not under dispute in the courts would strengthen the settlement enterprise.
“We are not strangers in Beit El. We are not strangers in Judea and Samaria. This is the Land of our Patriarchs. This is where our identity was formed,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said. “I say this here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and I say this everywhere in the world.”
Nonetheless, Prime Minister Netanyahu noted that the day on which the final attempt to stop the destruction failed “has been a complicated and difficult day.”
“Moving homes from their location, even if it is only five homes, is certainly not an action that this Government rejoices in doing,” he said.
Prime Minister Netanyahu also reiterated his commitment to establishing a ministerial committee on settlement in order to “ensure that the Government’s policy of strengthening settlement is implemented.”
He concluded by stating that “there is no government that supports, or will support, settlement more than my government,” noting that his government has withstood serious pressures in a “very complex diplomatic, national and legal environment”.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the measure to erect new homes, saying it sabotages negotiations.
Washington also disapproved, with a State Department representative reiterating the US position, “we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.”
Military and civilian officials and experts are deliberating where to erect the new buildings in Beit El. One option would place the buildings inside a military zone in the town.