Israel announces plan to approve 2,500 new settler homes


JERUSALEM: Israel said Thursday it will give final approval to the construction of 2,500 new homes in the occupied West Bank, the first tranche of settlements since the controversial US embassy move to Jerusalem.
The announcement was slammed by the Palestinians as the result of what they called the global community’s indifference to Israeli violations of international law, as prospects of a peace process between the sides appeared dim as ever.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his intention to request final approval from a planning committee for the building of 2,500 new homes in 30 West Bank settlements.
“The 2,500 new units we’ll approve in the planning committee next week are for immediate construction in 2018,” Lieberman said in a statement, adding he would also seek the committee’s approval for a further 1,400 settlement units for later construction. “We committed to advancing construction in Judaea and Samaria and we’re keeping our word,” Lieberman said, using the biblical terms for the West Bank.
“In the coming months we will bring forward thousands more units for approval.” The 2,500 units included 400 homes in Ariel, 460 in Maale Adumim, 330 in the Etzion bloc, and a retirement home in Elkana. Israel’s West Bank planning committee was set to convene on May 30 to discuss the request, though this was not officially confirmed. Israel’s West Bank settlements are considered illegal under international law and are bitterly opposed by Palestinians.
In a recent appeal to the International Criminal Court, the Palestinian foreign ministry called Israeli settlements “the single most dangerous threat to Palestinian lives and livelihoods”.
A senior Palestinian official slammed the Israeli announcement, which he linked to the United States’ support of Israel in international forums. “This is the outcome of the US administration rewarding Israel for violating UN resolutions, and of the rest of the international community granting impunity to Israel for its systematic violations of international law,” Nabil Shaath said in a statement to AFP.
Thursday was the first major settlement announcement since the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem on May 14, a move that infuriated Palestinians and intensified protests on the Gaza border, with 60 killed in clashes with Israeli forces that day.
Israel sees the entire city as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state. The Palestinians have said that in light of the Trump administration decision to move the embassy, they could no longer trust the US in its traditional role of brokering a peace deal with Israel.
The US ambassador to Israel meanwhile insisted that Trump “hasn’t failed on the ultimate deal,” the term the US president has used to describe peace with the Palestinians.
In a Wednesday interview with Israeli Channel 10 television, David Friedman said Trump was “working on the ultimate deal,” with it expected to be presented to the sides “within months.”
While Israel would expect to retain certain settlements in any two-state peace deal, longstanding international consensus has been that their status must be negotiated.