According to reports in the Israeli Walla news site, the Minister of Defense is about to approve the establishment of a new agricultural farm in “Givat Eitam”, near the Efrat settlement South of Bethlehem. If approved this farm might be the basis of a new dramatic expansion of the settlements in the Bethlehem area with far reaching consequences on the potential two states solution.
The big plan in Givat Eitam – 2,500 housing units
The Israeli Ministry of Housing has a plan which is not approved or promoted yet, to build 2,500 housing units in Givat Eitam. This plan is meant to double the size of the settlement of Efrat (AKA Efrata), which is located south of Bethlehem and is blocking the potential expansion of the Palestinian city.
From a Farm to a City?
The history of the settlements shows that many times an agricultural farm is actually the basis of the establishment of a whole new settlement. At the beginning, the settlers receive an approval to farm the land, then to build a house, and then, with or without an approval, they establish a neighborhood. This was the case in the outpost of Mizpe Yair south of Hebron, which was established as a farm and grazing lands, and today is the home to some 60 settlers. Recently, the original farm was evicted by the settlement municipality. Also the outpost of Mevo’ot Yericho, near Jericho, started as an experimental agricultural project, and today is the home for some 100 settlers. Other examples are the outposts of Sde Boaz, Haroe, Avri Ran farm and Sculy’s farm that started as farms and are now residential outposts.
The MOD’s approval of a farm in Givat Eitam might be the beginning of a new settlement in the area. Furthermore, a new farm will change the character of the area, with constant presence of settlers and security forces and will become off limits for Palestinians.
The history of the settlement of Efrat is especially important in this regard. Established in 1982, the settlement started at the southern neighborhood. In the 90’s the settlers established an outpost north of Efrat called “Givat Hazayit”, with several trailer homes. The government evicted the outpost several times, but eventually approved a construction plan in which today hundreds of housing units are built and thousands of settlers reside. Later, in the early 2000’s, the settlers established two more outposts “Givat Hatamar” and “Givat Hadagan” north of Givat Hazayit, in which few hundreds of settlers are living in trailer homes. In recent years, the government approved a construction plan for permanent homes in those outposts. The plan is awaiting approval for marketing.
The establishment of an outpost in Givat Eitam might be the basis of the expansion of Efrat further to the North and to the East.
The location – a big obstacle for the Two States solution
In previous official and unofficial negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, the settlement of Efrat was under dispute. According to the Geneva Initiative model of agreement, Efrat will have to be evicted. Also in the maps that were officially presented by the Palestinians in the negotiations, Efrat was to be evicted.
The settlement of Efart is located south of Bethlehem, blocking the potential development of the city to the south (the city is already blocked from the North by the East Jerusalem settlements of Gilo and Har Homa, and from the West by the Gush Etzion Settlements).
Moreover, the settlement of Efrat is located east of the highway connecting between Hebron and Bethlehem (Road no. 60). If annexed by Israel, there will be no main road to connect the southern parts of the West Bank with the center of the West Bank.
Despite all that, the Israeli government continues to develope the settlement of Efrat. Recently the government approved the construction of 277 housing units in Efrat. The proposed farm is located east of the planned route of the Separation Barrier, and if established and developed it might cause a further expansion of the areas taken by the Fence.