Back in December, Israel’s far-right government allocated approximately 1,200 dunams (300 acres) for the planning of a new neighborhood that would expand the settlement of Efrat towards Bethlehem, in the occupied Palestinian territories, an area considered particularly sensitive for political reasons. The new neighborhood is expected to enlarge the built-up area in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc up to the southern outskirts of Bethlehem, in a manner that would surround the Palestinian city with settlements.
The Civil Administration allocated the area to the Housing Ministry at the end of last December, a step that enabled the beginning of active planning of the neighborhood called Givat Eitam (Eitam Hill) located in the settlement of Efrat’s area of jurisdiction, but on the eastern side of the separation barrier.
Peace Now submitted a petition against the planned construction on the site to Israel’s High Court of Justice. In its response to the petition, state authorities informed the High Court that an important stage had already been carried out for advancing construction at the site: An area of 1,182.5 dunams was allocated to the Housing Ministry for planning, after which the actual planning of a residential neighborhood at the site will begin.
The head of the Settlement Watch team in Peace Now, Shabtay Bendet, said, “The government is crossing a red line in advancing a new settlement in E2, which is likely to be a lethal blow to the chance of peace and a two-state solution. The previous Netanyahu government carried out a dangerous and underhanded step in order to avoid public criticism in Israel and worldwide – it is no coincidence that this was done immediately after the announcement of the election, when public attention in Israel was directed at political developments and during the Christmas holiday, when the entire Christian world is on vacation.”