Israel is set to advance plans for 1,000 homes in West Bank settlements and to approve building for another 800, an Israeli official said, even as the US and Europe condemned such activity.
The official spoke on Thursday in advance of next week’s meeting of the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria that is expected to approve the 1,800 units.
In addition, the Construction and Housing Ministry published tenders for 1,500 homes over the pre-1967 lines late on Wednesday night.
Israel initiated the sudden flurry of settlement activity in response to Monday’s Ramallah ceremony, in which members of a united Fatah-Hamas government were sworn in.
The United States and Europe on Thursday called on Israel to reverse its decision with regards to settlement activity.
Some members of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition also attacked the decision to punish the Palestinians by promoting settlement building, which Palestinians view as a redline and an obstacle to peace.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) are working to block next week’s planning council meeting regarding the 1,800 units.
Livni warned that settlement building harmed Israel’s standing in the international arena.
MK Isaac Herzog, head of the opposition and of the Labor Party, charged that Netanyahu’s government was flawed for investing money in the West Bank rather then in the Negev.
Netanyahu has not “internalized the diplomatic fiasco” and has failed to “place on the table a program that the public can support which will change our international status,” Herzog said.
Netanyahu has brought Israel to the point where the international community considers the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot, which is over the Green Line, to be equivalent to the Yitzhar settlement near Nablus, he added.
But Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, whose Bayit Yehudi party is a member of the coalition, said that building was exactly the right response to the Palestinian decision to include the terrorist group Hamas in its government.
“It’s the appropriate Zionist response to a terrorist government to build everywhere in the land of Israel,” Ariel said.
He added that it would also help bring down the cost of housing.
Israel had published tenders and advanced building throughout the nine-month US led peace process that began at the end of July and ended in April with no tangible results.
It timed the building to match scheduled releases of Palestinian prisoners responsible for terrorist attacks.
Israel freed 78 prisoners during the first six months of direct talks with the Palestinians, but in April it balked at freeing the last batch of 26 prisoners. It did not want to release them in the climate in which talks were ending and in which Hamas was entering the Palestinian government.
Also in April, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon canceled a scheduled meeting of the Higher Planing Council for Judea and Samaria to advance more building in West Bank settlements.
An Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post in April that advancing or approving housing over the pre-1967 lines would focus international attention away from the Fatah-Hamas unity deal.
The official said that it was not wise to do this when Israel wanted to emphasize that placing a terrorist group like Hamas in the Palestinian government was the true stumbling block to peace.
Settlers had complained about the mini-freeze in construction and their leaders met last week with Netanyahu to complain about the issue.
Late Wednesday night, Israel changed its tune with its announcement of the tenders for 1,500 units.
The Construction and Housing Ministry published tenders for 400 homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, as well as for about 1,100 units in the following West Bank settlements: 484 homes in Betar Illit, 223 units in Efrat, 155 in Givat Ze’ev, 78 in Alfei Menashe, 76 in Ariel and 38 in Geva Binyamin (Adam).
Almost all these settlements are within the planned route of the security barrier and are communities that Israel expects to maintain during any final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
Some 78 percent of the tenders were for three settlements located just outside Jerusalem and which strengthen Israel’s hold on the capital – Efrat, Betar Illit and Givat Ze’ev.
This latest batch of tenders brings the total number of homes authorized in West Bank settlements since July 2013 to 3,302.
But the surge in authorizations has not translated into a massive increase in new settler housing.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there was a drop of 76.4 percent in the number of new West Bank housing in the first quarter of 2014 compared with that same period last year.
In the first quarter of 2013, 981 homes were constructed in settlements, according to the CBS. That number dropped to 232 in the first three months of this year.
Similarly, since July 2013 the Construction and Housing Ministry has published tenders for 2,620 homes in Jewish neighborhoods of the capital located over the pre- 1967 lines.
This has included the neighborhoods of Har Homa, Gilo, Neveh Ya’akov, Ramot and Ramat Shlomo.
The latest approvals from Wednesday night bring the overall total of tenders in Jerusalem neighborhoods up to 3,020 since July 2013.
Councilman Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio in the Jerusalem Municipality, attacked Netanyahu on Thursday.
“I think that the prime minister is losing his mind to make such a provocation now, which goes against the Americans more than [against] the Palestinians,” he said. “The main goal of this action is to destroy any chance for further negotiations, which is exactly what the Americans are trying to do.”
He warned that these latest tenders would “only encourage [the international community] to take more action against Israel because the government has become so unreasonable that the Western world will realize that something proactive must be done in order to save what remains of the peace process,” he said.
The councilman added that the international community should respond with greater isolation of Israel economically, through ongoing boycotts, and perhaps by imposing sanctions.
“I hope the international community will react as soon as possible through economic punishment, because this is the only language this government understands,” he said.
Meanwhile, in a Jerusalem Municipality statement, Mayor Nir Barkat welcomed the announcement, noting the importance of creating more accessible housing for young families who presently cannot afford prohibitive home prices in the capital.
“Mayor Barkat and the Jerusalem Municipality give their blessing to the Israeli government and the minister of housing and construction regarding any building permits that are granted in Jerusalem,” the statement read. “Building in Jerusalem is an essential part of the city’s development and enabling young people to live in the city.”
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