West Bank settlement housing gets initial approval (AP) Associated Press) By DANIEL ESTRIN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/22/12 3:27 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM – Israel gave preliminary approval on Wednesday to a plan
to build 600 new homes in a settlement deep inside the West Bank, a
move that drew rebukes from the United Nations and Palestinians and
threatened to raise tensions with the U.S. as the prime minister
prepares to head to the White House.
Israeli officials tried to play down Wednesday´s decision, saying
construction was years away at best.
But the timing of the move may further hinder already troubled
Mideast peace efforts. It casts a shadow over a trip by Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington in March, in which he is
expected to discuss Iran´s nuclear program and other regional issues.
The U.N.´s Mideast envoy, Robert Serry, called the Israeli
announcement "deplorable" and said it "moves us further away from the
goal of a two-state solution."
Speaking to reporters, State Department spokesman Mark Toner declined
to comment about the announcement, but said the U.S. policy on
settlement activity is clear.
"We don´t believe it´s in any way constructive to getting both sides
back to the negotiating table. And we want to see clearly a
comprehensive settlement that delineates borders and resolves many of
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been stalled for the past three
years over the issue of Jewish settlements.
The Palestinians, who claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem for a
future state, say there is no point negotiating while Israel
continues to expand its settlements. Israel, which captured the areas
in the 1967 Mideast war, says negotiations should begin without
preconditions. The international community opposes all settlements.
A low-level dialogue launched last month in Jordan failed to make any
breakthroughs. On Tuesday, Jordan blamed Israel for the impasse,
citing Israel´s "unilateral policies."
Israeli defense officials played down Wednesday´s decision, saying it
was made by a low-level planning committee under the control of the
One official said the project was in the "embryonic" phase and would
require "multiple stages of authorizations," including approval by
top leaders, that would take years to complete.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under ministry
But Yariv Oppenheimer, director of Peace Now, a dovish group that
opposes settlement construction, called it the biggest settlement
construction plan in the West Bank since Netanyahu took office three
Construction is to take place in Shiloh, a hardline settlement
nestled in the heart of the West Bank. Peace Now claimed that
Wednesday´s approval also included retroactive legalization of about
100 homes built without permits. Defense officials could not confirm
"The government is giving a prize to building offenders and
continuing the system by which every time the settlers build without
permits, the government approves the construction and allows them
even more construction," Peace Now said.
Palestinian spokesman Ghassan Khatib said Wednesday´s approval "shows
how Israel has no respect for the international community or
international laws, while at the same time sheds a light on the ...
lack of effective actions by international community toward Israeli
Netanyahu´s office did not return requests for comment.
Also Wednesday, Israeli officials said they would invest $130 million
over five years to improve roads in Jerusalem´s Arab neighborhoods.
Since Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967, its Arab neighborhoods
have not enjoyed the same level of funding the western Jewish sector
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the five-year project will improve
main thoroughfares, pave new roads and add safety features like
Daniel Seidemann, an activist who has criticized Israeli policies in
east Jerusalem, said the road works could help end decades of
inequality. But he said past funding pledges haven´t materialized,
and said the plan could also be aimed at cementing Israel´s control
of east Jerusalem.
Israel claims all Jerusalem as its eternal capital, but the
Palestinians hope to make east Jerusalem the capital of a future
"We are treating Arab neighborhoods as inextricable parts of this
city because they are administratively and geographically
inseparable," the mayor´s spokesman, Barak Cohen, wrote in an email.
About one-third of Jerusalem´s 800,000 people are Palestinians.
Although they hold residency cards, most do not vote in municipal
elections in order to protest Israel´s control. This gives them
little representation in the halls of power despite their
frustrations with urban policy.
In a new reflection of their disgruntlement, a top Muslim official in
the Holy Land condemned the city´s plans to hold a marathon next
month. Now in its second year, the marathon will draw hundreds of
Israeli and foreign athletes who will follow a path through
Jerusalem´s Old City in east Jerusalem.
Palestinian mufti Sheik Mohammed Hussein accused Jerusalem of "using
sports to change the demographic reality on the ground."
"They are using pictures of the al-Aqsa mosque, and pictures of the
Old City, including pictures of shrines of Muslims and Christians, as
propaganda for this marathon," Hussein said. "This gives an
indication to the world outside this territory that these areas are
part of Israel, while international law says all these areas and
places are under occupation."
Spokesman Cohen said this route is "an attempt to showcase the
diversity of Jerusalem and its centrality for people of all faiths."
In another development Wednesday, Israel´s Supreme Court temporarily
lifted a travel ban on a Palestinian human rights activist so he
could travel to Geneva to meet with a U.N. official.
Israel has prevented Shawan Jabarin, director of the Al-Haq human
rights organization, from leaving the West Bank for the past six
years and has kept the reason for the travel ban classified, the
activist said in a statement on his organization´s website.
The travel ban would still remain in effect upon his return,
according to a statement from the court. (© 2012 The Associated Press
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