Israel forms first council for illegal settlements since 1990s
Israel's commander of soldiers in the occupied West Bank, Yehuda Fuchs, on Monday signed a decree to unify the illegal settlement communities of Etz Efraim and Sha'arei Tikva, near the West Bank city of Nablus, to create a council.
The move, the first of its kind since the 90s, was approved by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Defence Minister Benny Gantz. Both are avid supporters of illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
The head of the Samaria Regional Council, Yossi Dagan also welcomed the move. The regional council provides municipal services for the 35 illegal Israeli settlements.
"This initiative will strategically and significantly strengthen the entire settler enterprise in Samaria, and provide a municipal response in the form of a better quality of life and far greater investments on behalf of the residents in Samaria," he said.
"The path to one million Jews in Samaria is more large communities, which will become urban centres and attract masses of people. History has shown that unifying councils under one local council in Judea and Samaria contributes to growth and prosperity," he added.
According to Israel Hayom, an official in the regional council noted such unity between councils means settlements will experience urban growth and development.
The last time a local council was created in the occupied West Bank was for Bet El in 1998.
Israel has occupied the West Bank illegally since 1967, and commits various abuses against Palestinian civilians, human rights groups say.
More than 700,000 Jewish Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in constructions considered illegal under international law.
The Oslo agreement of 1995 divided the occupied West Bank into three zones: Area A, Area B, and Area C.
Area A is under the administrative and security control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Area B's administration is controlled by the PA, with Israel controlling security. Area C is under full administrative and security control of Israel.