Netanyahu approves Beit El settlement expansion project

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved on Thursday an expansion project for the settlement of Beit El in the West Bank, okaying the construction of 300 new housing units in the community.

The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying Netanyahu met this afternoon with Beit El Mayor Shai Alon and told him that the units would be approved for the next stage in September. The statement emphasized that the commitment to the project was not new and was agreed to by the prime minister in 2012.

The prime minister publicly pledged to build the 300 units five years ago, following the destruction of five houses in Beit El’s Givat Ulpana neighborhood. The High Court of Justice had ordered the demolition of the buildings due to their construction on private Palestinian land.

The Thursday announcement came after Netanyahu met Alon on Monday, following a public spat in which Alon accused the prime minister of lying to him about West Bank construction permits. In that meeting, Netanyahu assured the mayor that he would fulfill his promise, according to a release by the Beit El municipality.

Sitting at a protest tent outside the Prime Minister’s Office earlier Monday, the mayor told reporters, “I hate it most when I’m lied to… Netanyahu promised… to build 300 homes in Beit El, but where are they? We have not gotten answers.”

Beit El Mayor Shai Alon (second from left) addresses the crowd at a protest outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 19, 2017. (Courtesy)

On Sunday, Beit El residents released a video campaign that featured five-year-old footage of Netanyahu pledging to expand the settlement with the words, “You cheated us,” flashing across the screen. The clip concluded with the threat: “If there is no building in Beit El, we have nothing more to say to you.”

During a contentious Likud faction meeting on Monday, Netanyahu assured fellow lawmakers of his intentions to fulfill his promise to Beit El residents. “It will not take 10 years and it won’t take a year either.” He went on to imply that there were outside forces that had prevented him from fulfilling his promise until now.

“I will write in my memoirs what caused the delays,” he said.

Israel has faced pressure from the US not to build settlements, who argued that it hampered the peace process. However, this has eased since Donald Trump came into the office, even if not to the extent that some on the Israeli right had hoped.

Netanyahu met Wednesday with Trump’s envoys to the region, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Jason Greenblatt. They were joined by US Ambassador David Friedman.

Friedman is known to have been as strong supporter of Beit El and was the head of the American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the settlement.

Friedman’s name appears on several of the buildings in the West Bank settlement funded by the American organization.

The approval came the same week Israel’s Central Bureau for Statistics published data showing a 70% increase in West Bank building since last year.

From April 2016 to the end of March 2017, construction of 2,758 housing units began in the settlements, compared to 1,619 construction launches the year prior, according to the CBS. Meanwhile, all districts within the Green Line saw decreases in building across the board.

Notably, when it came to building completions, West Bank settlements saw a 26% decrease since last year, as opposed to Israel-proper districts, which largely enjoyed increases.

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