UN slams plans for settlement building as 'illegal'

After approval of new construction, Obama administration says Israel's actions run counter to efforts to resume direct talks.

Gilo panorama 311 (photo credit: Matthias Guggisberg)
Gilo panorama 311
(photo credit: Matthias Guggisberg)
The United Nations on Tuesday reacted harshly to Israel's approval of 942 housing units in Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood as well as the approval of master plans for several West Bank settlements that is expected to lead to increased building in those areas, saying the moves were illegal.
"We reiterate that Israeli settlement activity anywhere in occupied territory, including in east Jerusalem, is illegal and contrary to the Roadmap. We call on the Israeli Government to halt further planning for new settlement units, which undermines efforts to bring about resumed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and prejudices final status discussions," Richard Miron, spokesman for the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry said in a statement.
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The UN statement came after the US expressed concern over settlement expansion on Monday.
"The United States is deeply concerned by continuing Israeli actions with respect to settlement construction," ABC News quoted White House National Security Staff spokesman Tommy Vietor as saying.
"Not only are continued Israeli settlements illegitimate, Israel’s actions run counter to efforts to resume direct negotiations," Vietor added.
The US statement came as President Shimon Peres was in Washington where he met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday and was scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
On Monday, the Jerusalem Local Building and Planning Committee gave initial approval to a plan for 942 homes in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which is located across the 1967 Green Line.
According to reports, the plan will encompass 88,000 square meters, and includes zoning for up to 300 additional units in the future.
The project must still pass the approval of the Interior Ministry’s District Planning and Construction Committee, and it will be years before construction could begin.
Earlier on Monday, in a rare move, Defense Minister Ehud Barak paved the way for more settlement construction when he approved master plans in four West Bank Jewish communities – Nofim, Eshkolot, Rotem and Hemdat.
The Defense Ministry’s settlement adviser, Eitan Broshi, said that the move simply adjusted a technical oversight.
“We are talking about already existing legal settlements, located on state land,” Broshi said.
“These are not outposts,” he added. “This is a statutory change and is not a shift in policy.”
No new building permits were issued, and the Defense Ministry would have to issue more authorizations before construction could begin as a result of the plans’ approval, he said. The move merely strengthens the legal standing of these communities with respect to state funding, utilities and expansion projects in existing homes, he explained.
Melanie Lidman and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report