Settlers Dispute Defense Minister’s Figures on Construction Starts

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Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, said on Sunday that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s optimistic data on settlement construction in Judea and Samaria are inflated.

Liberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) told Sunday’s cabinet meeting that the number of building permits in the settlements in the first half of 2017 was the largest since 1992.

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“I very much respect the defense minister, but unfortunately the figures he cites are incorrect, and the majority of the housing units he mentioned are being counted five or six times each – the real figure is less than 2,000 housing units in Judea and Samaria versus 20,000 housing units approved by the cabinet to the Arabs of Judea and Samaria in Area C.”

“Therefore, I ask this government, which is a nationalist government, to come to its senses and stop the policy of freezing the planning in practice,” Dagan said, adding that “change should be not only in words but also in action.”

The figures most officials seem to agree on come from the Supreme Planning Council of the IDF Civil Administration in the Territories, which cites the construction of about 2,100 housing units throughout Judea and Samaria – some 1,500 of them in the settlement blocs, and the rest outside the blocs. Many heads of local municipalities in Judea and Samaria were disappointed, since they were ready for the approval of more extensive plans, after eight dry years under the Obama Administration.

“Anyone who claims that it was possible to approve more construction in the settlements is not just advocating stretching the boundaries, but tearing them altogether, thereby endangering the entire settlement enterprise,” Liberman said. “There wasn’t and there won’t ever be a better government that would take such good care of Jewish settlement and development in Judea and Samaria.”

According to Dagan, some of the construction permits mentioned by the Defense Minister refer to projects that are in their very early inception, as well as permits awarded some projects after the fact, when the buildings in question have already been completed. Liberman even counts as bona fide approved projects the initial submission of construction plans before committee hearings on objections to these projects.

It is estimated that thousands and even tens of thousands of construction projects are stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire, and the time it takes each project to receive final approval takes years and depends not only on technical issues but on the level of international interest in each project.

Prime Minister Netanyahu last week met with the heads of the Judea and Samaria councils who had been very critical of his building policy. Sources who participated in the conversation told Ha’aretz it was a “workshop for unloading rage,” after which Netanyahu still would not commit to changing his policy.

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