Israel to build 850 homes in West Bank (AP) Associated Press) By AMY TEIBEL JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 06/07/12 12:28 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM – Israel´s plans to build hundreds of new homes in Jewish
West Bank settlements have put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at
odds again with Washington and the Palestinians, without appeasing
settlers furious over the government´s plan to dismantle an illegally
built settler enclave.
Engineers, meanwhile, questioned the government´s plan to physically
uproot the five apartment buildings that make up the Ulpana enclave,
saying it would be a colossal waste of money and likely doomed to
Netanyahu, an ardent settlement champion, has proposed that plan to
avert the spectacle of settlement homes being demolished on his watch.
On Wednesday, officials announced the government would build 850
apartments in various West Bank settlements after parliament, at
Netanyahu´s urging, voted down a bill that would have legalized
Ulpana and other settler outposts built illegally on privately held
Palestinian land. The international community condemns settlement
construction, and the Palestinians have refused to talk peace while
Israel builds on land they claim for a future state.
Netanyahu found himself in the politically difficult position of
having to carry out a Supreme Court ruling ordering the 30 apartments
in Ulpana destroyed by July 1. Knowing it would not stand up to the
court´s scrutiny, he pressured coalition lawmakers on Wednesday to
vote down a proposal by hardline legislators to legalize outposts
built on privately held Palestinian land.
To blunt the blow to settlers, he vowed to build 300 more homes in
the authorized settlement of Beit El, on whose outskirts Ulpana lies.
"Israel is a democracy that observes the law, and as prime minister I
am obligated to preserve the law and preserve the settlements. And I
say here that there is no contradiction between the two," he said
Wednesday after the vote.
Later, Construction Minister Ariel Attias announced that an
additional 551 apartments would be built elsewhere in the West Bank.
"Thirty apartments will be evacuated, but 850 will be built instead,"
said Attias in a statement. "Under the circumstances, this is a
The Beit El announcement, the first new construction to be approved
by the government in half a year, is largely symbolic. The
construction could be years away, since a lengthy planning process is
required before any building can begin, officials say.
Hagit Ofran of the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now said the
remaining units appear to have already been planned long ago. Israel
builds about 2,000 housing units in the West Bank each year, and she
said the newly announced plans would not change that pace.
Even so, the Palestinians and the U.S. harshly condemned the new
construction as a sign of bad faith.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat denounced the new
construction as a measure "that undermines all efforts to revive the
peacemaking between the two sides."
With 500,000 Israelis now living on land claimed by the Palestinians,
they say their dream of gaining independence is growing ever more
distant. Israel says negotiations must be conducted without
In a sharply worded statement, the U.S. accused Israel of hindering
peace efforts with the newly announced settlement construction — and
appeared to question both sides´ declared commitments to peacemaking.
"We´re very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the
West Bank undermines peace efforts," U.S. State Department spokesman
Mark Toner said. "We do not accept the legitimacy of continued
Israeli settlement activity."
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down three
years ago, and the Palestinians refuse to restart negotiations until
Israel freezes settlement construction in the West Bank and east
Settlers, meanwhile, vowed to resist the impending evacuation, though
they stopped short of threatening violence.
Ulpana resident Reut Lehrer told Army Radio on Thursday that "there
was a lot of anger" there at the government following the parliament
"People feel we have been abandoned," she said.
Ulpana settlers met after the parliament vote to discuss how to
respond, but no decisions have been taken, she said. But Army Radio
said fliers distributed at the outpost called for a "vigorous fight"
and urged settlers and their supporters to turn out in large numbers
to resist the "injustice."
Settler leaders have promised to resist the evacuation order, though
they say their opposition will be peaceful. On Wednesday evening,
shortly after the parliament vote, police used stun guns to disperse
a group of about 40 settlers who were throwing rocks at Palestinian
cars, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The violence raised fears of further attacks on Palestinians and
their property, a tactic known as "price tag" that extremist Jews use
to vent their anger at government action against settlers.
Government officials, meanwhile, were working on Netanyahu´s
unprecedented promise to physically uproot settler houses and move
them intact to a site about half a mile away. The project would begin
after the 150 Ulpana settlers are moved into state-funded mobile
homes, pending the relocation of their homes.
Israel David, vice chairman of the Israeli Association of
Construction and infrastructure Engineers, estimates the project
would cost anywhere from $13 million to $25 million — and in the end
"I don´t think it´s feasible, because of the topography and the type
of construction,´ he said of the buildings, which each house six
apartments and are located on hilly ground. He said it was possible
the structures would crumble while being transferred — just the
scenario Netanyahu so hopes to avoid.
Asked why he thought the government would undertake a project he
professionally views as so quixotic, David replied: "It´s a good
spin. No one did their homework on this." (© 2012 The Associated
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