Israel unblocks plans to build new settler homes
After Israel announced plans to build 1,500 new settler homes, the Palestinians urge Washington to take a tougher stance
Israel is planning to build more than 1,000 new settler homes in the West Bank, Israeli media reports said, only days after a Palestinian unity government was formed.
Israel Radio quoted by Reuters on Thursday said the Housing Ministry announced new tenders for homes in a number of Jewish settlements, built on land the Palestinians seek for a future state.
The plans include building 1,800 settler homes, an Israeli official said, in addition to issuing tenders for 1,500 housing units, according to Agence France-Presse.
“The political echelon has ordered the Civil Administration to advance 1,800 new [housing] units,” the Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to a defense ministry unit responsible for all West Bank planning issues.
The step comes days after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sworn in a unity government that has the backing of Hamas officials, which oppose the existence of Israel.
The Palestinians demanded Thursday that Washington take “serious steps” against Israeli settlement building.
“It is time for the American administration to take serious steps against what the government of Israel is doing,” Nimr Hammad, an adviser to president Mahmoud Abbas, told Agence France-Presse.
An appropiate response
Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel said it is “an appropriate Zionist response to the terrorist Palestinian government,” he was quoted by the Israeli online edition of Haaretz newspaper as saying.
“Israel has the right and duty to build throughout the entire country,” Ariel added.
Of the new homes, 400 will be in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem with the rest elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, the website reported.
Meanwhile, the Palestine Liberation Organisation said it would appeal to the U.N. Security Council over Israel's settlement construction, a senior official said Thursday, according to AFP.
“The executive committee of the PLO views this latest escalation with the utmost of seriousness,” Hanan Ashrawi said in an English-language statement.
The committee “will counter it by addressing both the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly as the proper way of curbing this grave violation and ensuring accountability,” she added.
President Abbas swore in the unity government on Monday. The United States said it planned to work with the administration set up by the reconciliation deal, prompting Israel to express disappointment.
On a lightning visit to Israel’s northern neighbor Lebanon on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry defended the U.S. decision, Agence France-Presse reported.
He said it did not contradict longstanding U.S. and European Union policy that bars all dealings with any Palestinian government involving Hamas until the Islamist movement renounces violence and recognizes Israel and past peace deals.
Kerry said Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas had “made clear that this new technocratic government is committed to the principles of non-violence, negotiations, recognizing the state of Israel, acceptance of the previous agreements.”
“Based on what we know now about the composition of this technocratic government, which has no minister affiliated to Hamas and is committed to the principles that I describe, we will work with it as we need to, as appropriate,” the U.S. top diplomat said.
The row over the new Palestinian government is further testing the once sacrosanct relationship between Israel and the United States, already strained by the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks.
(With AFP and Reuters)