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2,700 houses to be built as soon as West Bank settlement freeze ends

Haaretz probe shows regional councils across the West Bank are preparing for continued construction as 10-month freeze end date approaches.

By Chaim Levinson

At least 2,700 new housing units are scheduled to be built in the West Bank as soon as the current settlement freeze ends this September, Haaretz has learned.

Yakir settlement

Construction in the settlement of Yakir, near Ariel.

Photo by: Moti Milrod

Regional councils across the West Bank are preparing for continued settlement construction ahead of September 27, when the current build freeze is scheduled to end.

The building projects due to continue, however, are mostly those that were authorized prior to the freeze, as opposed to new ones, whose construction can only be approved by the defense minister.

The Shomron regional council in the northern West Bank, for instance, is gearing up for the construction of 800 new houses. Regional council head Gershon Mesika sent a letter instructing all of the settlements in its jurisdiction to prepare to "grant building permits, to wrap up project planning and to transfer them to the engineering department for inspection."

"Time is short and there is much to be done," Mesika wrote in his letter. "We want to welcome September prepared for final committee permits in order to immediately issue those permits as soon as the [freeze] period lapses, and to allow the commencement of construction."

Shomron regional council deputy Ehud Stondia told Haaretz that the council was "preparing for construction on the scale that existed before the freeze or even more."

The West Bank's Binyamin regional council is also furiously working to lay the groundwork for future construction, as 1,200 housing units have already been authorized, mostly in Shilo, Talmonim and Kfar Adumim.

The Oranit regional council, according to the Haaretz survey, has planned 600 units, some of which have already been authorized, only to be halted by the settlement freeze.

Council head Shlomi Langer told Haaretz that Oranit had "upgraded its engineering manpower ahead of the freeze's end," saying the council had made the process "more efficient."

"We are doing anything in our power to prevent settlements that are divided by the green line to fall under the construction freeze," Langer said, adding that his council was "prepared."

Officials at the Gush Etzion regional council refused to comment on planned projects, but the number of those is estimated at a few dozen.

The Southern Hebron Hills regional council has but a few dozen units in its bank, mostly in Eshkolot and Susia.

Much of the building is planned to take place only within the various regional councils, where most of the land is owned by the World Zionist Organization's settlement division.

In the larger cities, as well as in some of the local councils, such as Efrat, there are plans that have already been authorized, but the ground has not yet been submitted for tenders by the Housing and Construction Ministry.