Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon has given the green light to renovations of a former Presbyterian church south of Jerusalem, which was recently purchased by Jewish philanthropist Irving Moscowitz in order to convert it into a new Jewish community.
The former American church was built in the 1940s, and is strategically-located between the Gush Etzion region and Hevron in Judea. The property covers some 40 dunams (10 acres), and is made up of eight separate structures.
Building work had been going on for several months, but was frozen a week ago after the left-wing Haaretz newspaper revealed Moscowitz's purchase, triggering pressure from Arab and left-wing groups.
But on Saturday, following a string of meetings with Jerusalem councilman and nationalist activist Arieh King, Yaalon gave permission for the repairs to continue.
Yaalon did not, however, give official permission for Jewish families to move into the site – only for the renovations themselves – and therefore any attempt to turn it into a new Jewish community will require a separate permit from the defense ministry.
The Gush Etzion Regional Council has applied for the site – legally purchased by Moscowitz via a US-based not-for-profit company – to be placed under its jurisdiction, but that request has yet to be answered as well.
It was first purchased by a Norwegian Christian Zionist activist, and in 2012 was handed to a not-for-profit owned by Moskowitz Renovations, according to Haaretz.
The location of a new Jewish community in the area – opposite the Arab town of Al Arroub – would be strategically significant, given that it would essentially ensure Jewish contiguity from Gush Etzion to Hevron.
As such, it is likely to attract further pressure from leftist NGOs and Arab extremists; the Presbyterian Church in Judea and Samaria has already said it is planning to fight Yaalon's decision in court.