Defying international calls to freeze settlement activities, Israel has revived plans to build a new settlement in the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank for the first in a decade.
"Twenty units in the Jordan Valley is significant, as there are only 1,000 (for Israelis) in the entire Jordan Valley," Dubi Tal, head of the area’s local Israeli council, told Israel Radio on Thursday, July 24.
In 2006, Israel shelved plans for the Maskiot settlement under pressures from the United States.
But they were revived under a deal between the defense ministry and settlers leaders.
"Twenty units in the Jordan Valley is significant, as there are only 1,000 (for Israelis) in the entire Jordan Valley," Dubi Tal, head of the area’s local Israeli council, told Israel Radio.
Maskiot had been established as a military base.
A religious school was set up in Maskiot four years ago, but no one had lived at the site until February.
This year, nearly two dozen settlers moved to Maskiot despite a government decision to freeze plans to build a settlement there.
The Maskiot community is made up of settlers evacuated from Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal in 2005.
When it withdrew, Israel promised not to relocate evacuated settlers to the West Bank.
Israel captured the Jordan Valley in the 1967 war and insists on controlling the area in any future agreement with the Palestinians.
It attaches a major strategic importance to the Valley which gives it control of the Jordan River, one of the most vital lifelines and best natural water resources in the Middle East.
Palestinians said Israel’s decision to revive the controversial new settlement plan will undermine peace chances.
"This is destroying the process of a two-state solution," said chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
"I hope the Americans will make the Israelis revoke the decision. I think they can make the Israelis do this."
Israel’s Peace Now movement accused the government of caving in to Jewish settlers.
"Capitulation to the settlers would kill chances for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and eventually drag us to a bi-national state."
There are more than 164 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, eating up more than 40 percent of the occupied territory.
During a much-touted US-backed peace conference last year, Israel promised not to build new settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Under the internationally-backed roadmap, Israel must freeze all settlement activities and vacate all settlements constructed after March 2001.
The international community considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land illegal.
Israel, however, never halted settlement construction.
Over the past few months, Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized at least 1,710 new housing units in the West Bank, 750 of them in occupied East Jerusalem.
(IslamOnline.net and news agencies)