Israel has advanced the process of building 942 more settler homes in East Jerusalem under a new fast-track plan to tighten its grip on the territory, which the Palestinians seek to have as the capital of Palestine.
A government planning committee on Monday moved the project to the advanced stage of asking contractors to submit bids to build them, the Interior Ministry said on Tuesday.
Once a bid is awarded, construction can begin on the project in the Gilo area, though it can take months, if not longer, to reach that point.
An additional 300 units can be built after further planning, said attorney Daniel Seidemann, an expert on Jerusalem construction who sees the building as an obstacle to peacemaking. About 40,000 Israelis live in Gilo.
“With God’s help, we will continue to live and build in Jerusalem, which will remain united under Israeli sovereignty,” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the campaign launch event of his Likud Party. “We will continue to strengthen the settlements.” Israeli elections are set for January 22.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the new Israeli announcement was a “red line” that would block the chance for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which a Palestinian state would be established alongside Israel.
“The Palestinian Authority will take all the possible means available to respond to this,” said Abu Rdeneh. The statement was posted on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
The newly-approved homes are among more than 5,000 new settler homes in east Jerusalem that Israel pressed ahead over the past week.
Palestinians do not recognise Israel’s 1967 annexation of the territory and say any Israeli construction there undermines their claims to it. The international community has not recognized Israel’s 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu launched a settlement construction push to punish the Palestinians after the United Nations recognized a de facto Palestinian state last month.
The Palestinians have said they hope the upgraded status will allow them to return to the negotiating table with a stronger hand. Talks stalled four years ago, primarily over settlement construction.
The construction push in East Jerusalem has drawn international condemnation, as have plans to build thousands of more settler homes in the adjacent West Bank.
Israel captured both areas and Gaza in 1967. It withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, but blocks most access to the territory and retains control over the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Also on Tuesday, the Gaza Strip’s ruling Hamas announced that Palestinian journalists there have been banned from working for Israeli media outlets.
The official statement from the Hamas Cabinet called Israeli outlets “hostile entity media institutions”.
Israeli media have no permanent correspondents in the Gaza Strip, but Israeli TV channels and newspapers often employ local Palestinian journalists as stringers. The Gaza journalists do not generally identify themselves to others as working for Israeli outlets because of a taboo against co-operating with Israel.
Israel bans Israeli journalists from entering the Gaza Strip, saying their presence in Gaza would pose a risk to their security.
(Agencies and Al Jazeera -www.aljazeera.net)