(photo credit: Joanna Paraszczuk)
The United States and the Palestinians on Monday accused Israel of harming
attempts to revive the peace process by approving the construction of 277 homes
in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
“We have seen reports of this
approval for apartments in the West Bank. We consider it deeply troubling,” US
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
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of actions are counterproductive to the resumption of direct
We have raised this issue with the Israeli
We will continue to make our position known,” she
Nabil Abu Rudainah, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas, said the approvals were “an Israeli attempt to obstruct and
destroy what is left of any effort to revive the peace process.”
an act, he said, that justified Palestinian plans to seek statehood unilaterally
at the United Nations rather than through a negotiated agreement with
“Once again, these Israeli settlement measures represent a strong
reason calling on us to go to the United Nations and the Security Council to
request membership for the state of Palestine and to halt these Israeli
measures,” Rudainah told Reuters.
He spoke to the media hours after the
Defense Ministry put out a simple statement notifying the media that it had
approved the marketing of 277 homes in the Neuman neighborhood of
Some 100 of those homes are designated for evacuees from the
former Gaza settlement of Netzarim.
The move follows the publication in
July of tenders for 336 homes in West Bank settlements, including 294 housing
units in Betar Illit and 42 in Karnei Shomron.
These are some of the the
largest approvals to be granted in settlements since the 10-month moratorium on
Jewish housing starts in Judea and Samaria expired in September
According to Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman it’s the largest single
project to be approved in his city for a decade.
“It is the first time in
10 years that we received such a permit,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
said that the approvals allowed for the completion of an existing neighborhood
where building had been halted due to US pressure.
With a population of
17,559 according to the Central Bureau of Statistics’ 2009 census, Ariel is the
fourth-largest Jewish community in Judea and Samaria.
But unlike the
three largest settlements – Modi’in Illit, Betar Illit and Ma’aleh Adumim – it
has grown slowly over the past 15 years.
This is because the government
approved only a fraction of the housing that it granted those three larger
As a result, Ariel population growth has been stagnant. The
Jewish population in the West Bank grew by 5.3 percent from 2008 to 2009,
according to the CBS. But in Ariel, there was no population growth at
“This is cruelty, not to allow us to grow,” Nachman
Although Ariel is considered a settlement bloc, its future status
is considered less secure because it is located 16.1 km. away from the Green
Its geography could make it hard for Israel to retain it in any
final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
The housing approvals come
in the midst of a large protest movement demanding affordable housing throughout
Nachman said that had the government approved new housing in his
city over the past decade, it would have alleviated some of the housing
shortages in the center of the country.
He noted that his settlement in
central Samaria is only a 40 km. drive from Tel Aviv.
The Ariel approvals
also come one week after the Interior Ministry approved the construction of
1,600 housing units in the northeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. The
UN, the EU and the US condemned the east Jerusalem construction.
statement to the media released by the press office of PA Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad said, “The Israeli decision today to approve more settlement building
makes clear to the world Israel’s contempt for a negotiated twostate
“Perhaps those who question our move to the UN [in September]
will now see why it is necessary to ask for the international community’s
support against unilateral Israel decisions which preempt the outcome of any
Peace Now condemned the move, saying that the
government had “added oil to the September bonfire.”
“Instead of finding
housing solutions within Israel, [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak has caved in to
the demands of settlers at the expense of Israel’s international interests,”
Peace Now said.Reuters contributed to this report.