December 30, 2009 - 1:00am

In an unusual step, the state announced on Tuesday its plan to promote planning and construction in the northern West Bank settlement of Kiryat Netafim, Army Radio reported Wednesday.

Left wing human rights group Peace Now petitioned the High Court of Justice recently against the construction of 14 structures that were illegally built, some of them on Palestinian land without any authorization, according to the petition. In response to the petition, the Defense Ministry approved the Kiryat Netafim construction plans, to legalize the construction of the 14 structures in question.

This decision was surprising, especially in light of the fact that the government recently declared a 10-month settlement construction freeze. Army Radio reported that there are several other areas where the Defense Ministry wants to approve construction, because every step of the planning has been in complete accordance with the law, but the ministry refrains from approving these plans due to fear of international criticism.

Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer told Army Radio that while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for relaunching peace talks with the Palestinians, in practice he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are doing everything in their power to promote new construction plans in the West Bank and to "authorize illegal construction in outposts and settlements."

"The settlement freeze is turning out to be no more than media spin with no connection to reality," Oppenheimer told Army Radio.

Residents of Kiryat Netafim welcomed the decision, telling Army Radio that "this announcement sparked a wave of excitement. We are grateful to the Peace Now activists for raising this issue before the court."

"Immediately after we receive the authorizations, we will begin building. We are hopeful that our neighbors in Judea and Samaria will enjoy similar treatment," they added.


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