'Major settlement building won't stop'

Top official tells 'Post' it's "well understood" settlement activity will continue in some areas.

Har Homa 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Har Homa 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel will continue building in Jerusalem as well as in major settlement blocs in the West Bank, even as a construction freeze continues elsewhere in the territories, a senior Israeli official said Thursday. The remarks come days after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Jerusalem Post that the US opposes any new construction in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, and does not distinguish between Israeli building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. "It is very clear that we are committed not to build new settlements, and Israel has taken action to curtail settlement activity over the last years," the Israeli official said. "[But] it is well understood that there are some areas, [the] most populated areas [where] some activity will continue," he added. Israel plans to keep several major West Bank settlement blocs as part of any final peace treaty with the Palestinians. The official added that Israel was determined to continue building in Jerusalem, and that there was no change in its position on the issue despite the rare criticism by America's top diplomat. "Nobody... could expect Israel to interpret this matter [of a building freeze] to be relevant to our capital," he said. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank as well as in east Jerusalem. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that despite a moratorium on new settlements and land expropriation in the West Bank, building in Jerusalem and West Bank population centers are "not [of] the same status." Recent plans to construct more than 300 new homes in Har Homa, which overlooks Bethlehem and lies just inside the expanded city limits on Jerusalem's southern border with the West Bank, prompted international condemnation. While being built in the 1990s, the disputed neighborhood, home to a population of 7,000, was also the subject of international criticism. While Israel differentiates between building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, Rice said that the US did not make such a distinction. Her remarks were the strongest criticism to date of Israeli policies in east Jerusalem. Rice's definition of Har Homa as a settlement and her repeated criticism of the expansion plan on the eve of US President George W. Bush's trip to Israel set off alarm bells in Jerusalem amid concern that the US was adopting the Palestinian position against any Israeli construction in east Jerusalem.