Housing ministry seeks to double settler population in Jordan Valley
Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope) set to push for plan to double the settler population in the Jordan Valley, as are cabinet ministers and officials close to the prime minister Naftali Bennett played down reports that the United States had increased pressure on Israel to stop settlement activity
The plan would include a government decision to promote the Jordan Valley, an agrarian region on pre-1967 lines with only some 1,500 families that borders Jordan and is considered of extreme strategic importance to Israel, according to a source. of the ministry.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley during his election campaigns, then delayed the move in favor of a sovereignty plan for half of Area C of the West Bank.
Israel suspended its sovereignty plan as a prerequisite for the Abraham’s accords, which opened the door to normalized relations with four Arab countries.
Elkin’s plan, which would call for the construction of 1,500 houses in existing settlements in the Jordan Valley, stops before sovereignty.
However, he seeks to firmly entrench Israel’s grip on the Jordan Valley and remove it from the debate over the future of Area C of the West Bank.
“The Jordan Valley is part of the consensus part of Judea and Samaria,” Elkin told military radio, explaining that it enjoys the same broad public support as that of the Gush Etzion bloc settlements. or the settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel. .
The story was first reported by the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom and confirmed by The Jerusalem post.
The Jordan Valley is expected to increase national and international tensions over settlement activity, especially given the opposition to such construction by some of the coalition members. The Meretz and Ra’am parties oppose any Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria, and the Labor Party opposes construction outside the blocs.
A ministry source said it is believed there is majority support for the Jordan Valley plan within the cabinet. News of the plans follows a Civil Administration hearing earlier this week on the viability of building nearly 3,500 homes in an unbuilt area of the West Bank known as E1.
The United States has been fairly direct in its public opposition to Israeli settlement activity.
US Chargé d’Affaires Michael Ratney meets regularly with Bennett’s diplomatic adviser Shimrit Meir and has raised concerns about settlements, multiple sources said.
On Wednesday, however, ministers and officials close to Bennett denied that he was under increased pressure from the Biden administration to freeze construction in Judea and Samaria.
Bennett has repeatedly stated that he has no plans to freeze Jewish buildings in Judea and Samaria and that he intends to continue pushing construction plans forward.
Yet the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria has yet to meet to advance a major settlement building project. It last met just before US President Joe Biden took office on January 20, when Netanyahu was prime minister. The council was originally scheduled to meet in August to push forward a plan for 2,223 housing units, but that meeting was called off due to a strike and has not been rescheduled.
Following a report on Army Radio on Wednesday that Bennett told the security cabinet he was “surprised” at the level of pressure on US settlements, many ministers said under on condition of anonymity that they had not felt or heard of increased pressure.
Elkin told Army Radio that there was “no connection between the report and what happened in reality.”
“We know how to behave,” Elkin added. “It’s not something we haven’t seen in previous governments.”
Sources close to Bennett and Foreign Secretary Yair Lapid, who was in Washington last week, made similar remarks while saying the Biden administration has made its position clear.
“They don’t want to build in E1 or Givat Hamatos, but that’s not what the pressure looks like,” a senior diplomatic source said.
The prime minister is aware that when the West Bank construction plans are made public, they are likely to cause friction with the Biden administration, a source close to Bennett said. However, he still intends to allow “a conservative but consistent pace of construction”.
On construction, the source added, Bennett plans to focus more on the Golan Heights, which the United States recognizes as sovereign Israeli territory. Earlier this month, Bennett announced a plan to quadruple the population of the Golan Heights. Elkin told Army Radio he believes the government should also double down on the Jordan Valley plan.
Samaria Regional Council chief Yossi Dagan visited Washington this week to arouse opposition in Congress to any attempt by the Biden administration to impose a settlement freeze on Israel.
“We will not allow a construction freeze in Judea and Samaria,” Dagan told media. “Neither in this government nor in any other government,” he stressed.
Dagan left for Washington earlier this week amid consistent reports of pressure from the Biden administration on Bennett to freeze settlement activity.
“Responsibility for construction in Judea and Samaria rests solely with the Israeli government,” led by Bennett, said Dagan.
There is support among American politicians for Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, Dagan said, adding that the politicians he met were very supportive and receptive.
“The purpose of the meetings is to create a coalition of partners for the State of Israel and the colony of Judea and Samaria who will fight together to build and strengthen” these communities, he said.
Dagan’s office said the settler leader had met with around 20 members of the House and Senate. These include Republican Representatives Robert Good of Virginia, Chris Smith of New Jersey, Andy Barr of Kentucky, Charles Fleischmann of Tennessee, Lee Zeldin of New York, and Beth Van-Dwayne of Texas.