Har Homa 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
With the world increasingly putting Israel's obligation under the road map to stop settlement activity on par with the Palestinian obligation to uproot the terrorist infrastructure, Israeli officials have begun taking the offensive, with one official saying Monday that the two obligations are not "morally equivalent." Construction on Har Homa, the official said, doesn't kill anyone.
Building in the Jerusalem neighborhood, which was approved in 1997 and planned as a community of 6,500 units, will continue, he said.
The official said 4,500 housing units in Har Homa had been built, meaning that in addition to the 300 units for which tenders were just issued, another 1,700 are in the pipeline.
The official indicated that neither the fate of Har Homa, nor any of the other settlements, would be determined by the construction of another 300 units.
"If Har Homa will not be part of Israel, it doesn't matter if Har Homa is 5,000 units or 6,000 units - Har Homa will be dismantled," the official said.
It was clarified afterward that the official was not putting Har Homa on the negotiating table, but rather speaking in theoretical terms; that if the government decides to dismantle a settlement, it will do so, and an addition of a few hundred units would not tip the balance.
The official reiterated Israel's long-standing position that it will allow construction in existing settlements within the built-up construction lines, but would not build any new settlements or allow the expansion beyond the built-up areas of existing settlements.
When asked if the US approves of this definition, the official said, "America doesn't have to approve if we are doing something that we think, as a sovereign state, we have to do."
Nevertheless, Israeli officials took some comfort when US President George W. Bush spoke at Annapolis about the need for Israel to end settlement activity, saying there should be no more settlement "expansion," but saying nothing of ending all construction.
The official said Israel would not build new settlements, confiscate land in the West Bank or give financial incentives to people to move to the settlements, as has been done in the past.
But, he said, this didn't mean that the government would prohibit people from moving to empty flats in existing settlements.
Also, he said, "If somebody bought an empty lot in one of the settlements 10 years ago and he owns it, and he decides now in the year 2007, 10 or 15 years after he purchased it, to build on it, the government of Israel cannot do anything about it."
Regarding the settlement outposts, of the 108 that were set up since March 2001, and which Israel has said it will dismantle, 82 have been taken down, leaving another 26, the official said. While he did not give a timetable for their removal, he said Israel was committed to doing so.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon, meanwhile, said Tuesday almost all current construction over the Green Line was in the large settlement blocs that Israel has indicated it will retain in any agreement.
"The Palestinians won't say that this is good, but there is no doubt that the Palestinians understand that in the end of the peace process the settlement blocs will be under Israeli sovereignty in return for an exchange of territory," he told Army Radio.
Ramon, advocating an eventual territory swap, said Israel should reach an agreement with the Palestinians "over the principle of settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty, and in return an exchange of territory."
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