Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, it what seems to be a move inspired by right-wing pressures, agreed Sunday on a new zoning plan for the West Bank settlement of Nofim. The rare move effectively enables further developments of the settlement.
Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres is expected to meet with US president Barack Obama later this week in Washington.
So far the defense minister and other senior officials have abstained from altering the sensitive status-quo surrounding the settlements.
Out of 12 settlements in the territories lacking an approved municipal zoning plan, only two settlements – Neve Tzuf and Kiryat Netafim – have began similar proceedings which have yet to be finalized. The rest, including Itamar settlement, where the Fogel family was massacred only a few weeks ago, await the defense minister's approval.
Nofim residents said that despite the settlement existing for over 24 years – following an official governmental decision – and it being built on lands acquired legally from Palestinians, Barak has yet to sign off on a zoning plan for what they claim are "political reasons". This caused the government to stop investing in the settlement and left many zoning plans untouched.
"The Sasson Report has tainted us all," said Nofim residents, recalling the 2005 official document inferring that Israeli state bodies had diverted millions to West Bank settlements and outposts' construction plans, which are considered illegal under Israeli law.
"For almost six years now we've been suffering from lack of legitimacy despite the fact the government is responsible for building and sending us here," a Nofim resident added.
Even homes that were built there have not received a 'Form 4' permitting to populate the area, according to residents. "All this while kibbutzim and many other communities in the State exist without a signed zoning plan," they said.
The pressure to agree to a zoning plan originated from right-wing Knesset members and ministers. During the last two years the Shomron Regional Council managed to get nearly half of the Knesset members, ministers and media personalities to visit the area, including Nofim, where they heard first hand about the hardships the residents have encountered.
"Despite the fact the Sasson Report was rejected by the government, the Civil Administration and planning authorities received their instructions from the defense minster – which meant accepting the report," claimed a right-wing member.
Nofim was founded in 1987 and is now home to 175 families, most of them secular.
Regardless of the decision to expand the settlement, right-wing officials said they do not expect a construction boom any time soon. "It's mostly conveys a formal meaning, and it might affect public buildings and the residents' feelings."
The Defense Ministry said: "This is a legal settlement built on State land and approved by the government, but a municipal zoning plan has yet to be regulated. Only recently this plan was finalized. We are talking about approving a plan to regulate an existing situation. Any additional construction will call for further approval."
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