New settlements imperil talks 15Oct10 October 16, 2010

Aljazeera -  15 October 2010

Israel has unveiled plans for around 240 new homes for Jewish settlers in predominantly Arab east Jerusalem, in a move that has drawn the ire of Palestinians.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said on Friday that the move proved Israel was intent on “killing” every opportunity to revive the stalled direct peace talks between the two sides.

“We call upon the US administration to hold the Israeli government responsible for the collapse of the negotiations and the peace process as a result of this government’s insistence on killing every opportunity for resuming negotiations,” he said.

The plans for new housing units in the settlement neighbourhoods of Pisgat Zeev and Ramot were approved late on Thursday by Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, the Ynet news website said.

The United States have been pushing Israel to extend a 10-month moratorium on new settlement building in the occupied West Bank, but Netanyahu has failed to find an agreement to within his coalition government over the freeze that expired on September 26.

Although the freeze did not cover construction in east Jerusalem, Netanyahu had avoided signing off on any such projects in order to avoid the political fallout, Ynet said.

‘Making a point’

Settlement watchdog Peace Now said that it was the first time such a plan had been approved since March, when Israel gave the green light to plans for the construction of 1,600 new homes in east Jerusalem during a visit by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, prompting a major dispute with Washington.

The group said the announcement showed that the Israeli government was trying to undermine the chances of salvaging the peace talks with the Palestinians.

“The fact is that someone – either the housing minister or the prime minister – is trying to make a point: they want to make it harder on peace efforts,” Hagit Ofran of Peace Now told the AFP news agency.

“Such a decision is going to be a problem for the continuation of the talks and this is exactly what they were trying to achieve.”

“It could be that Netanyahu knows that he will have to reimpose the freeze in the West Bank and  needs to give something to the settlers,” she said, adding that the invitation to tender for the planned homes was likely to be issued in the coming months.

Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros in Jerusalem said there was a speculation that the US had been made aware of the new developments.

“The Israeli media is reporting that the United States has been made well aware that these tenders have been issued and bargained the Israeli side down from 600 homes to about 240 homes,” she said.

“One analyst said that this could be part of a larger deal that is being brokered. One that, in his words, means that would be a temporary opening before total reclosing [which] means there could be some kind of deal being brokered between prime minister Netanyahu and his right wing coalition partners.”

‘Co-ordinated with US’

Senior government officials quoted by the Yediot Aharonot newspaper said Netanyahu not only knew about the move but had co-ordinated it in advance with Washington.

“It is a symbolic decision which, even so, took a long time to make,” a senior cabinet minister was quoted as telling the paper, saying the US administration had urged Netanyahu to delay the decision.

“The Americans pressured Netanyahu to wait with it and delayed the decision by several weeks. We don’t want to quarrel with them and break the rules of the game,” he said, predicting Washington would issue only a “weak condemnation” of the proposals.

The housing ministry did not respond to a request by the AFP news agency to confirm the proposals, and Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said he could not confirm or deny the report as he was “not familiar” with any such plans.

Israel seized east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it shortly afterwards in a move not recognised by the international community or the Palestinians, who consider it the capital of any future state.

The Palestinians see the settlements in the west Bank as a major threat to the establishment of a viable state, and they view the freezing of settlement activity as a crucial test of Israel’s intentions.

If you liked this article, please consider making a donation to Australians for Palestine by clicking on the PayPal link
Thank You.
Bookmark and Share

Add a Comment

required, use real name
required, will not be published
optional, your blog address