By Dan Izenberg and Tovah Lazaroff, The Jerusalem Post – 31 Dec 2009
The state on Wednesday asked the High Court of Justice to reject a petition filed by Peace Now against construction of 15 houses in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Netafim and said it would complete detailed planning which would pave the way for the authorities to grant building permits for the homes.
The state’s support of the 15-home project comes in the midst of a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction.
The Palestinians have insisted that Israel must freeze all construction over the Green Line as a pre-condition to the resumption of peace talks with Israel which have been stalled since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office last March.
The state’s support of the homes comes in response to a petition filed by Peace Now on August 27, demanding that the Civil Administration demolish the houses because they were being constructed without permits.
They also charged that the houses were built on land that was partly state-owned and partly owned by Palestinians.
In its response, the state said that the Civil Administration had prepared detailed land use plans for the area of Kiryat Netafim where the 15 houses were being built but had not yet completed the process.
The planning began in 2000, the state added.
The developers could not receive building permits for the houses as long as there was no approved detailed land use plan for the area in which they were to be built.
Despite that, construction on the houses did begin and was stopped only after the High Court issued stop-work orders on October 1.
On Wednesday, the state informed the court that it intended to renew the procedures for obtaining approval for a detailed land use scheme and that after the plan was approved, it would issue permits for the buildings.
Until then, it said it did not object to the interim injunction issued by the court suspending construction for the time being.
The court has not yet set a date to continue the hearing on the petition.
The homes are the second phase of a 30 unit project, which was begun a number of years ago by Amana, the Gush Emunim settlement arm.
In the religious community of Kiryat Netafim, located in the Samaria region, 10.7 kilometers over the Green Line, settlers believe that the project is legal.
They reject claims that the homes were built on private Palestinian property and say that the project was part of an initial master plan for the settlement, which is home to 480 people. It was first created in 1983.
But even the settlers admit that the plan lacked a final signature from the Defense Ministry even though it has all its other approvals.
Kiryat Netafim spokesman Motti Ovadia told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, “We are very pleased by the state’s response.” He added that he was hopeful the judges would uphold the state’s position.
“This is a very happy day,” said Ovadia.
“We want to thank Peace Now for helping us by appealing to the court,” he added.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said that the state’s response ran counter to Netanyahu’s promises to halt new construction and showed that the government still supported building in the settlements.
She added that it was not just the 15 homes that lacked a detailed plan, but that the master plan for the entire settlement had never been approved.
Kiryat Netafim is one of a number of settlements whose legal status is questionable under Israeli law, Ofran said.
Should the court uphold the state’s position and allow the building plan to be finished, Kiryat Netafim’s legal status under Israeli law would improve, she said.
It also paves the way for the settlement to expand, Ofran said.