Israel this week advanced plans for 1,083 settler homes in the West Bank as part of its response to the newly formed Palestinian government that is jointly sponsored by Fatah and Hamas.
The move is the second approval of settlement activity in the last eight days, and follows the Construction and Housing Ministry’s publication last week of tenders for 1,500 homes over the pre- 1967 lines in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem.
Israel began announcing the building plans after the new Palestinian government was formally sworn in earlier this month. It also upheld its decision to suspend peace talks as long as Hamas, a terrorist organization, is connected to the PA government.
The Palestinians, in turn, have insisted that settlement building is one of the obstacles to the resumption of peace talks.
On Thursday, the PA’s Foreign Ministry called on the United Nations and the member countries of the UN Security Council “to pressure Israel to stop its Judaization of Area C” where Israeli settlements are located, according to the Palestinian WAFA news agency.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the Fatah Advisory Council, which met at his headquarters in Ramallah on Thursday, that settlement activity must be frozen before peace talks can continue.
Israel, he said, would also have to make good on its pledge to release 26 Palestinian prisoners.
“Based on that, we are willing to resume negotiations, with the first three months to be dedicated to drawing up borders before moving on to discuss the other final-state issues,” Abbas said, according to WAFA.
Until the Fatah-Hamas unity deal was announced last month, Israel and the Palestinians had been debating extending the nine-month US-led peace process, which began at the end of July.
An Israeli official said that Israel had wanted to continue the talks, but the Palestinians refused, adding that Israel had been willing to accept a framework document proposed by US Secretary of State John Kerry that set out principles for future talks, but that the Palestinians again refused.
However, when the Palestinians accepted a government sponsored by Hamas, Israel withdrew from the talks.
It sees no hope of continuing unless Hamas recognizing its existence and renounces violence against it.
Israel has asked the international community to reject the Palestinian unity government, but the US and Europe have said that they accept the new structure, by which the actual government is composed of technocrats and accepts Israel, while Hamas as an independent group still rejects it.
The US Senate sent a united message of “grave concern” to US President Barack Obama on Thursday regarding the formation of a reconciliation government between Fatah and Hamas, and what the move might require of Congress in determining future US aid to the Palestinians.
Eighty-eight senators from across party lines signed the letter sent to the White House, written by senators Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), which warns the new PA unity effort might “jeopardize direct negotiations with Israel to achieve a two-state solution.”
On Thursday, French President Francois Hollande called Abbas to congratulate him on the new consensus government.
According to a statement from Hollande’s office, the French president “expressed his regrets for the suspension of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and hopes that the two parties would resume dialogue as soon as possible and refrain from any gesture which would put it at risk.”
In Israel, a stiff political debate has waged in the past week over the continued settlement building, with leftwing politicians warning that it harmed Israel’s standing on the international stage.
On Wednesday, the High Planning Council for Judea and Samaria met and advanced plans for new building.
It has yet to formally publish its decisions, but a defense official provided The Jerusalem Post
with the council’s conclusions. Peace Now said it received the same information.
The bulk of the new homes are planned in two Jewish communities.
Plans were moved forward for 381 homes in the settlement of Givat Ze’ev and 550 for Bruchin.
The plans for Bruchin are most significant because, according to Peace Now, they will expand the community’s population from 500 to 3,500.
Bruchin was only authorized by the government in 2012, when it was transformed from an outpost into a settlement. Both communities are within the boundaries of the security barrier.
Housing plans advanced for the settlements of Kochav Ya’acov, Oranit and Ariel and for the outpost of Tzofit, which the government is transforming into a legalized neighborhood of the Neveh Tzuf settlement.
Michael Wilner contributed to this report.
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