Israel Plans New Jerusalem Settlements

A plan for a new Jewish settlement in the Israeli occupied Arab east Jerusalem has been submitted for approval to city hall, a newspaper reported on Sunday, which was likely to dominate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming talks with Western leaders.

The plan calls for the construction of about 104 housing units in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood, currently home to some 14,000 Palestinians, the Haaretz newspaper reported, quoting sources at the Jerusalem municipality.

This plan for massive construction in a high-density Palestinian area is extremely dangerous for the urban equilibrium," Yariv Oppenheimer, the head of the Israeli settlement watchdog, Peace Now, told AFP.

Palestinian senior negotiator Saeb Erakat slammed the project, saying in a statement that "Israel’s continued settlement expansion in east Jerusalem is an out and out land grab that threatens the very possibility of a negotiated two-state solution."

Peace Now said that despite a government moratorium announced last week on approving new housing in the West Bank enclaves, more than 40,000 more homes could be built under plans already ratified.

The group said almost 600 housing units have been constructed in the West Bank since the start of the year, including 96 structures in wildcat outposts built without Israeli government approval.

"The construction continues with government support in the large settlement blocs and, in a roundabout manner, in isolated colonies," the report said.
Netanyahu Headed to Europe

Benjamin Netanyahu If the plan is approved it is certain to cause a storm amid U.S. efforts to get Israel to freeze all settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land in order to revive the stalled peace process.

Netanyahu has rejected the call for a settlement freeze, but in a gesture to Washington he agreed last week not to invite any new construction tenders in the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem, until early 2010.

The U.S. administration welcomed the announcement as a move in the right direction, but critics said it fell far short of demands for a total freeze on settlement construction, one of the main stumbling blocks in the peace talks.

Netanyahu flies on Monday to London, where he plans to meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday and U.S. President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell on Wednesday.

Mitchell has been trying to reach an agreement with Israel on a settlement freeze Obama has demanded in accordance with a 2003 peace "road map" that also calls on the Palestinians to rein in militants.

The issue has opened the widest rift in Israeli-U.S. relations in a decade.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday Israel was making a "sincere and serious effort" to obtain what he called a "package of understandings" with Washington on the settlements but a deal did not seem imminent.

The four-day trip includes a stop in Berlin, where Netanyahu will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday. Like Brown, she has been critical of Israel’s settlement policy.

( English and Agencies)

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