Israel Permits New Settlement Homes

Israel has given the go-ahead for the construction of more than one thousand new settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee on Monday published details of a programme that allows 978 housing units to be built in Har Homa, an illegal Jewish settlement south of the city centre.
An additional 320 units are planned for Ramot, which also lies beyond the Green Line that virtually separates the eastern and western part of Jerusalem.

The move was announced as Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, visits the United States, where he met with Joe Biden, the US vice president, to discuss the peace process.

The plans prompted a furious reaction from Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

"We thought that Netanyahu was going to the United States to stop settlement activity and restart negotiations but it is clear to us that he is determined to destroy the talks," Erakat said.

"He has shut all the doors to negotiations and we hold him responsible for destroying them."

Peace Talks

Direct peace talks which began in early September quickly ran aground when an Israeli moratorium on West Bank settlement construction expired six weeks ago, prompting the Palestinians to freeze ties until Israel re-imposes the ban.

Although the 10-month moratorium did not cover building projects in East Jerusalem, Israel has quietly held off from approving projects there in order to avoid political fallout.

Earlier this year, during a visit by Biden to Israel, a diplomatic row broke out over Israeli plans for 1,600 settlement homes in Ramat Shlomo, another illegal settlement in East Jerusalem.

The Israeli Interior ministry responded to Monday’s announcement by saying that the new settlements were approved long before the decision was published and the programme’s details were in accordance with the law.

Although headlines about fresh settlement plans looked likely to embarrass Netanyahu, Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Jerusalem, said that the timing of the announcement during the prime minister’s visit to the US is not a coincidence.

"It is very unlikely that the Prime Minister’s Office didn’t know, or indeed sanction the announcement of these new homes being built, and that is why many people are telling me that this is once again another message being sent from the Israeli administration to the US administration that the settlement freeze […] is well and truly over.”

Peace Now, an Israeli NGO, called the announcement "a calculated attempt by Netanyahu to torpedo peace talks and also avoid blame, by forcing the Palestinians to be the ones to walk away from the negotiation table".

Building work at Har Homa began in 1997 during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, in a move which led to the breakdown of peace talks.

"Har Homa has become a symbol of Netanyahu’s refusal of peace," Hagit Ofran, a Peace Now spokeswoman, said.

Ghajar Withdraw

Netanyahu is due to meet Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary general, in New York later on Monday to present a plan for the Israeli army to withdraw from Ghajar, a village that straddles the border with Lebanon.

According to the UN, the northern section of the village is Lebanese territory and the southern section is Israeli.

Ever since Israel’s war against Hezbollah in 2006, when the Israeli army re-occupied Ghajar, Israel has been under a legal obligation to withdraw its troops.
"Israel is expected to portray this as a deal between Israel and Unifil, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, and not a deal that is being made with the Lebanese government," our correspondent said.
"The Israelis want to make very sure that it is Unifil, the United Nations that is patrolling and securing that border, and certainly not Lebanese troops, or indeed Hezbollah."
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)

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