Israel plans to announce new construction in West Bank settlements in the near future, an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas toured Europe to urge its leaders to pressure Jerusalem to halt such activity.
“I expect that in the coming period we will be announcing further construction in the [West Bank] settlements,” the official told the Post on Monday.
In Europe, Abbas repeated his assertions that Israel was undermining the peace process with its continued building.
The Israeli official, however, charged that such statements, made by Abbas and other Palestinians, were disingenuous.
He said that it was the Palestinians who violated their agreements.
During the nine-month peace process that began in July and ends in March, the Palestinians committed to abstaining from acts that promote unilateral statehood in international forums, the official said.
The official added, “But we have seen the Palestinians continue with some of that activity.”
The PA has continued its incitement against Israel, the official said.
“What is going on in the Palestinian territories is unacceptable [with] the continued calls for the delegitimization of Israel,” the official said.
He explained that the Palestinians were well aware that Israel had not committed itself to a settlement freeze during the negotiations.
“We reserve the right to continue building,” the official asserted.
He added that the majority of the building was in areas of the West Bank that Israel believed it would retain during any final status agreement with the Palestinians.
Last week, Abbas headed to Europe to sway leaders of key countries to pressure Israel to stop West Bank settlement construction.
He is also urging the EU to facilitate consumer labeling on West Bank settlement products, and to push forward with its plan to enforce with greater stringently existing legislation that bars Israeli entities over the pre- 1967 lines from receiving EU funding.
Abbas met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome last Thursday, and with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday. On Monday he met with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.
Lithuania currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.
Grybauskaite pledged her country’s support for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which she said were important and should continue.
“Peace talks are the only way to bring to an end the decades-long conflict between Palestine and Israel,” she said.
“It is a historic opportunity for both nations to ensure peace and stability in the region. The European Union strongly supports a peaceful two-state solution, which would enable Israel and Palestine to live side-by-side in peace and security.”
According to Grybauskaite’s office, “She called on Israel to end the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories.
The European Union does not recognize settlements as part of Israel, the president noted. Such actions by Israel impair the progress of peace talks.”
Still, the talks have continued, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to discuss their status with US Secretary of State John Kerry when the two meet in Rome on Wednesday.
As part of the peace efforts, Israel is expected to make good on its pledge to the Palestinians to release a second batch of prisoners held in Israeli jails on October 29.
In July, the cabinet approved the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in four stages during the nine-month negotiation period. Israel released 26 of those prisoners in August.
On Monday, the Bayit Yehudi faction spoke of ways to block the move, according to MK Orit Struck. Its parliamentarians have spoken out in the last few weeks against such a move, in the aftermath of a number of Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the West Bank.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Justice Ministry would not comment on the release of prisoners. But the PMO said that when such a release occurs, the names must be published 48 hours in advance.
Israel’s agreement to release the prisoners was a key factor in the Palestinian Authority’s decision to begin direct negotiations with Israel that had been largely frozen since December 2008.
Prior to July, it had refused to hold direct talks with Israel until it halted West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.