US calls new W. Bank settlement plans 'deeply troubling'

Defense Ministry announces approval for building 277 homes in Ariel; PA: New construction is Israeli attempt to destroy peace process.

Ariel 521 (photo credit: Joanna Paraszczuk)
Ariel 521
(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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“These kinds of actions are counterproductive to the resumption of direct negotiations.
We have raised this issue with the Israeli government.
We will continue to make our position known,” she said.
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.”
It was an act, he said, that justified Palestinian plans to seek statehood unilaterally at the United Nations rather than through a negotiated agreement with Israel.
“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 Ariel.
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 2010.
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.
He 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 settlements.
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 all.
“This is cruelty, not to allow us to grow,” Nachman said.
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 Line.
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 Israel.
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.
A 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 solution.”
“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 bilateral negotiation.”
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.