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US, EU, Palestinians: Tenders for homes harmful to peace
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
01/11/2014
State Dept: We have always said settlements ‘illegitimate.’
 
The US, the EU and the Palestinians warned Israel that its announcement Friday of new tenders for 800 new homes in West Bank settlements and 600 in east Jerusalem was harmful to the peace process.

“It is never helpful to have steps taken that are not conducive to our efforts in moving forward on peace. We’ve called on both sides, as you know, many, many times to create a positive atmosphere for negotiations.

So anything that doesn’t do that is unhelpful,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington on Friday.

“We consider now and have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate, and we express that, of course, on a regular basis, as needed,” Psaki said.

“But the reality is both sides remain committed to discussing the framework, committed to moving forward, and we’ll keep working with them,” she said.

The 600 units announced to be built in east Jerusalem, are set to be in the neighborhoods of Ramat Shlomo near Ramot, Har Hotzvim and Shuafat.

Initial plan reports for Ramat Shlomo homes were published during a 2010 visit of US vice president Joseph Biden. They marred the visit and created a problem for the indirect talks that had been taking place at the time.

In addition, on Friday, the Construction and Housing Ministry published tenders for the following West Bank settlements: 227 units in Efrat, 78 in Alfei Menashe, 86 in Karnei Shomron, 40 in Ariel, 75 in Geva Binyamin (Adam), 24 in Betar Illit, 102 in Emmanuel and 169 in Eliana.

All these settlements are located within the planned route of the security barrier and a number of them are close to the Green Line, with Betar Illit located only four kilometers over it.

Efrat is located 6.5 km. over the pre-1967 lines as is Elkana.

Alfei Menashe is 2.8 km. past those lines, Elkana is located 3.1 km., Geva Binyamin is 6.6 km., Karnei Shomron is 9 km., Immanuel 13.2 km., and Ariel is 16.1 km. beyond the lines.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton responded to the announcement, saying that “the settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make the two-state solution impossible.”

Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the “recent announcement shows Israel’s clear commitment to the destruction of peace efforts and the imposition of an apartheid regime.”

Erekat said that the Israeli government is “openly displaying its true agenda.”

He said that the announcement of yet more settlement units at this particular time is a test for the US Administration’s ability to hold Israel accountable for actively sabotaging their efforts for peace.

“Such an announcement should also serve as a reminder to the international community to sever all ties with the Israeli occupation,” Erekat continued.

“These are positive and active ways in which the international community can protect and help to realize the two-state solution.”

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, also condemned the new announcement. He said the announcement is a sign of continued Israeli intransigence.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) vowed that the party he heads would do everything it could to block the building of the new 1,400 units over the pre-1967 lines. “These are not building tenders, but declarations to build, which are void of content. It’s a bad idea. Yesh Atid will do everything it can to ensure that it remains simply a bad idea, and won’t be executed.”

European leaders and the US urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to move forward with the new building plans, because such measures are harmful to the peace process.

Israel refused to cede but did agree to delay its announcement until after US Secretary of State John Kerry finished his visit to the region earlier this week to advance the ninemonth negotiating process that ends in April.

Anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now said that Friday’s announcement meant that since direct talks had resumed last year, Israel had unveiled plans for some 5,349 new homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Palestinians believe that these settlements, and all the land beyond the pre-1967 lines, should be part of their future state.

They have, therefore, argued that continued building is a stumbling bloc to peace and want Israel to halt all such activity.

Israel believes that a final-status agreement for a two-state solution will place most of the West Bank settlements under Israeli sovereignty.

It has argued that any settlement freeze predetermines the future borders of a two-state solution outside the context of negotiations.

Israel said that as a gesture to the peace process it agreed in July to release 104 Palestinian prisoners, involved in terror attacks against Israel, in four separate stages during the ninemonth talks.

Some 78 prisoners have since been freed in three releases, the last of which took place at the end of December.

At the beginning of the ninemonth talks Netanyahu said that Israel would be building throughout, and has timed announcements of new building to coincide with the prisoner releases.

Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said that “on the one hand, we’re in negotiations and trying to build trust with the Palestinians, and on the other hand, we are sabotaging it by making building plans, which are like a mine exploding the peace process.”

According to Gal-On, the government knows that the US and EU think settlement construction is against international law.

“These construction tenders show that Netanyahu is giving in to the Right and the settlers in his coalition,” she added.

On Friday, the ministry also republished tenders for 532 east Jerusalem homes in the following neighborhoods: 182 in Pisgat Ze’ev, 294 in Ramot and 56 in Neveh Ya’acov.

The ministry said that tenders for these projects had already been published in past releases.

Khaled Abu Toameh and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.
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