United States President Barack Obama's visit to Israel next week has sent Israeli entrepreneurs and future homeowners in the West Bank to a building frenzy, fearing the presidential visit may entail another construction freeze beyond the Green Line.
In many settlements concrete foundations are hurriedly being laid down and entrepreneurs are pressing zoning committees to speed up the process, worrying they may get "stuck" should a West Bank construction ban be decided.
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"Naturally we are stressed," said Reut and Yoni Gottlieb, who purchased a small piece of land in the Etz Efraim settlement. "It's in the air, and we're trying to hurry the procedures as best we can so we can start building our house.
"A freeze isn't certain, but we'll at least try to lay foundations and start building infrastructure, so they'll not be able to stop us half way through and force us to postpone our plans and continue renting for the foreseeable future."
Settlement construction (Archives) (Photo: AFP)
The Gottliebs are not alone. Many couples are speeding up construction, sometimes with a cost to quality.
Yael and Nehami Toran, who intend to build a house in Gush Etzion, explained: "Beyond the great injustice, a freeze would get us into financial straits. So we hired the first architect, contractor and decorator we saw. The main thing is to start construction, and if we're lucky – we could start laying down foundations soon."
Future home owners are not the only concerned parties. Zoning committees reported increasing pressures by West Bank entrepreneurs to expedite bureaucracy as much as possible – and start building.
"We've seen a lot of pressure in the past few weeks," a zoning official in the Samaria regional council admitted. "Entrepreneurs don't want to get stuck and not meet the deadlines presented to their clients.
"They're also afraid they won't be able to sell apartments. There's still very high demand in Judea and Samaria but already you can see doubts, and entrepreneurs understand that."
Their concerns are not unfounded, as lately a trend has emerged of a delay in permits and procedures, following a period of sweeping settlement expansion.
Indeed, the Civil Administration is not unaware of the sensitivities accompanying the presidential visit.
Though the Prime Minister's Office has only instructed zoning committees "not to surprise us with housing approvals in east Jerusalem," the Civil Administration has frozen procedures in the West Bank as well, including a plan for 250 housing units in Elkana, and postponed meetings by several zoning committees.
But some settlers have found a loophole, and established the first new Samaria settlement in 20 years.
New settlements cannot be established without a government decision, but settlers recently bypassed the regulation by letting the new settlement, named Leshem, be under the jurisdiction of the existing Alei Zahav.
But for all intents and purposes the new neighborhood will be completely autonomous, with between 80 to a 100 families occupying it in the coming months.
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