Gov't: Storm will pass over settlement approvals

“We had no illusions int'l community was going to embrace the move,” official says of authorization of 851 settlement homes.

Ulpana outpost near Beit El 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
Ulpana outpost near Beit El 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
The government announced authorization of 851 new homes in the settlements despite an anticipated wave of international condemnations because it believes that – as in previous instances – the storm will pass, officials said on Thursday.
The officials spoke even as the US, France and UN already slammed the decision to build the new housing units.
The decision was made on Wednesday shortly after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu blocked Knesset legislation that would have saved unauthorized settler homes from demolition – paving the way for the evacuation of five buildings built on private Palestinian land in the Ulpana outpost, on the outskirts of Beit El.
“We had no illusions that the international community was going to embrace the move,” one official said. He pointed out, however, that with the exception of Kiryat Arba, all the new housing units were to be built in settlements that Israel considered as large settlement blocs that would remain part of Israel under any agreement.
He also said the units would be built within the confines of existing settlements, and did not represent the construction of new communities.
Beit El, which like Kiryat Arba is outside the West Bank security barrier, has increasingly been considered by the government as part of a large settlement bloc, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak having said a number of times in recent months it will stay part of Israel.
The official said that similar international outrage was expected to what occurred last November, when Israel announced that it would build 327 homes in Ma’aleh Adumim and Efrat, and 1,650 in the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, in response to the Palestinians’ success in joining the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
On Wednesday evening, Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) said his office would market 300 units in Beit El, 144 in Geva Binyamin (Adam), 117 in Ariel, 114 in Efrat, 92 in Ma’aleh Adumim and 84 in Kiryat Arba.
The condemnations were not long in coming.
“Continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations including the 2003 road map,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Wednesday evening.
“The US position on Israeli settlements is clear,” he said. “We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. We also oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts.”
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero urged Netanyahu to “avoid provocation and renew dialogue.” He called on the prime minister to “abstain from implementing these plans. We recall that colonization in all its forms is illegal under international law, undermines the two-state solution at ground level, and is an obstacle to peace.”
And UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry issued a statement saying that “the International Community’s view [is] that all settlement construction – whether on private Palestinian land or elsewhere in occupied Palestinian territory – is contrary to international law.”
He termed the announcement of the new units, “including adding 300 units in Beit El, deep inside the West Bank,” as “deeply troubling.”
Serry said that “if the parties do not grasp the current opportunity, they should realize the implication is not merely slowing progress toward a two-state solution.
Instead, we could be moving down the path toward a one-state reality, which would also move us further away from regional peace in the spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative.”
One government official refused to speculate on whether such an announcement of more housing units would have been made had the Palestinian Authority been willing to enter into negotiations with Israel. The PA has said it will not negotiate unless all settlement construction – including in east Jerusalem – stops.
While the government seemed to feel that the condemnations would pass, one diplomatic official warned that Israel ignored the world on this matter at its peril.
“You can’t say that the condemnations mean nothing,” the official said. “They have all kinds of effect on other things, and when we go to countries later and ask for certain things, be it votes at the UN or other issues, it takes a toll.”
The official said that constant headlines such as “UN condemns Israel over settlements” had an accumulative effect, and was one of the reasons why Israel’s position in public opinion polls in many countries around the world was hurting.
Planning is under way to relocate the five Ulpana structures to an authorized section of the Beit El settlement, at a cost of NIS 12 million to NIS 14m. The families will be given modular homes to live in until the structures have been relocated, officials said.
Negotiations are ongoing between the Prime Minister’s Office and Ulpana residents, but no agreement has been reached.
At present, Ulpana residents plan to resist the relocation of their homes. Activists have set up tents by the homes to protest the pending demolitions.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.