Israel Publishes Plans for New Housing in Settlements

Israel Publishes Plans for New Housing in Settlements
By JODI RUDORENJAN.  New York Times . Friday, 10, 2014

JERUSALEM — The Israeli government on Friday published plans to build 1,400 new housing units in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a move the chief Palestinian negotiator condemned as “a slap” to Secretary of State John Kerry’s intense push for a Middle East peace deal.

The housing announcement was hardly a surprise. Israeli officials originally said they would promote these units in conjunction with the December 31 release of 26 long-serving Palestinian prisoners, but then promised to delay the plan until after Mr. Kerry’s latest shuttle-diplomacy visit.

It continues a pattern that began with the peace talks this summer in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has struggled to please his politically complex coalition government by both engaging in the talks and continuing to expand settlements, something the Palestinians and many in the international community contend undermines the prospects for a two-state solution.

“Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sent a message to Mr. Kerry today, and the message reads: Do not continue your peace efforts,” the Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said in an interview. “They know very well that this destroys the peace process.”

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, declined to comment on the housing ministry’s announcement, which was made Friday, when Israeli news media is on something of a hiatus for the Sabbath.

A senior Israeli official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said that Israel had agreed to release Palestinian prisoners convicted of killing Israelis as part of the peace talks but not to freeze settlement construction. He noted that all the new units are slated for the so-called settlement blocs that most Israeli leaders have vowed never to give up.

“Israel is strictly honoring all the understandings that were reached to facilitate the current peace talks,” the official said. “If you look at every peace plan that’s been on the table,” he added, “there are differences between the different plans, but in all of them, the large settlement blocs remain part of the final-status peace. If you’re building in areas that are going to remain part of Israel in any agreement, are we really changing the map of peace?”

The new plans include 600 units in Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood in the northern part of Jerusalem where plans for similar construction announcedduring a 2010 visit by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. led to a major clash with the Obama administration. There is also more planned housing in the Gush Etzion area south of Jerusalem and in Ariel, a large settlement about 12 miles into the West Bank, along with several smaller ones nearby. In addition, the government re-published old plans that were never implemented for nearly 500 units in Pisgat Ze’ev and Ramot, also in northern Jerusalem.

Israel seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war; it later annexed East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state. Most of the world considers these territories to be occupied, and any settlement there illegal.

Friday’s construction announcement comes as Mr. Kerry is trying to cajole Mr. Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to agree to a framework for continuing the peace talks that would set out the core principles of an agreement and buy more time to deal with the details. The framework would likely call for a division of the land along the 1967 lines with some swaps to accommodate settlements, Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state with protections for Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinian refugees, and twin capitals in the Jerusalem area.

The United States considers settlement in the occupied territories to be “illegitimate,” and Mr. Kerry has previously said that construction announcements during the negotiations are “unhelpful.”
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Martin Indyk, Mr. Kerry’s special envoy for the talks, and Daniel B. Shapiro, the American ambassador to Israel, did not respond for requests for comment on Friday.

Mr. Erekat, who said in December that further settlement announcements should prompt the Palestinians to seek redress in United Nations agencies and other bodies like the International Criminal Court, on Friday said the leadership would hold an emergency meeting to decide how to respond. He said the announcement showed Israel’s “commitment to an apartheid regime” and presented a “test to the U.S. administration’s ability to hold Israel accountable.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said the announcement proved Mr. Kerry’s initiative was “a charade,” and said “I can’t believe how naïve or disingenuous and complicit the Americans are.”

Criticism also came from within Israel. Ofer Shelah, a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition from the centrist Yesh Atid Party, called the announcement “regrettable both in content and in the timing.” And Yair Lapid, the chairman of that party, said he would ensure it “remains only a bad idea that isn’t implemented.”

Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, said it was “detrimental to the negotiations.”

And Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes settlements, said in a statement, “These actions are an indication that this government is not serious about the process, in fact they are fooling the Israeli public, the Palestinian leadership, the U.S. Secretary of State and the international community.”

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