Peace Now: 'Netanyahu abetting illegal settler building'

NGO says the government advanced plans for 1,531 new settler homes in the last year.

Efrat settlement, West Bank (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Efrat settlement, West Bank
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has abetted illegal settler building by allowing Israeli officials to work on retroactively legalizing 756 such homes in the West Bank this year, Peace Now charged.
The group, which monitors settlement building, issued a mini-report on such activity, in response to Wednesday’s meeting of the Higher Planing Council for Judea and Samaria.
Peace Now charged that from January of this year and until now, the council has advanced plans to retroactively authorize 384 illegal settler homes and to advance plans to legalize another 372 such structures.
“The Netanyahu government continues to plan and build all over the West Bank, while also giving settlers the message that any construction done without planning will be retroactively legalized,” Peace Now said.
The United States and the United Nations have this year paid increasing attention to Israel’s efforts to retroactively legalize settlement activity.
In its mini-report, Peace Now also explains that the council has advanced plans for 1,531 new settler homes this year and  approved the construction of 410 new units.
On Wednesday the council retroactively legalized 179 homes in the Ofarim settlement, which is located just 3.3 kilometers outside the pre-1967 lines. The council approved 30 new homes in nearby Beit Aryeh. Both communities are close to Tel Aviv.
It also authorized 20 new homes in the Givat Ze’ev settlement located just outside of Jerusalem.
In addition, the council advanced a 234 unit project for elder housing in the settlement of Elkana, outside of Tel Aviv, in the Samaria region of the West Bank.
Peace Now said that such activity proves that “the Netanyahu government does not believe in a two-state solution, it is actively trying to kill it by building more and more in the settlements. This policy contradicts the very essential interests of the state of Israel,” Peace Now said.
Still, in spite of the number of plans that have been advanced, the number of new homes under construction remains low in 2016 compared to past years.
The number of housing-starts in West Bank settlements dropped by 53% in the first quarter of 2016, compared to the same period the previous year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. This meant that ground was broken for 331 new settler homes from January to March of this year, compared to the building that started on 705 such units in 2015.
Separately, the number of finished settler homes rose by 14.9% in the first quarter of 2016, compared to that same period in 2015.
This translated into the completion of 610 settler homes in the first three months of this year, compared with 531 such houses that were completed from January to March in 2015.
Israel, has insisted that settlement activity has no bearing on the creation of a two-state solution and that the only necessary ingredient for the resolution of the conflict is for the Palestinians to sit down and negotiate a peace deal with Israel.
In addressing the United Nations Security Council in New York, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, accused Israel of harming the peace process by building in the West Bank.
He delivered a sweeping condemnation of Israeli settlement activity, including attempts to retroactively legalize West Bank outposts. He compared those unauthorized structures on isolated West Bank hilltops with Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.
“Let me be clear: no legal acrobatics can change the fact that all outposts – whether ‘legalized' under Israeli law or not, whether located on state land, absentee land or private Palestinian land - just like all settlements in Area C and east Jerusalem, remain illegal under international law,” Mladenov said.
The Quartet — the UN, the EU, the US and Russia — have “clearly condemned” the “expanding Israeli footprint” in the West Bank, he said.
“It is difficult to read in these actions a genuine intention to work towards a viable two-state solution,” Mladenov said.
United Nations Bashes Israel Settlement Building
His comments about Jewish building over the pre-1967 lines in Jerusalem struck a nerve with the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
Netanyahu's spokesman David Keyes slammed Mladenov's comments, saying that the UN official “made peace harder to achieve by distorting history and international law before the Security Council.”
Keyes said that it is not the presence of Jews in the West Bank and Jerusalem, where they have lived for thousands of years, that is a barrier to peace.
Rather, he said, “it is the unceasing efforts to deny that historical connection and a refusal to recognize that Jews are not foreign to Judea and Samaria. The claim that it is illegal for Jews to build in Jerusalem is as absurd as saying Americans can't build in Washington or the French can't build in Paris.”
Keyes said that the Palestinians “demand to ethnically cleanse their future state of Jews is outrageous and should be condemned by the United Nations, instead of being embraced by it.”