Israel Advancing Plan for Some 5,000 New Homes in West Bank and East Jerusalem

Construction projects to begin across West Bank, including in isolated settlements. Palestinian Authority, UN and U.S. condemn move.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government will begin advancing a series of construction plans in the East Jerusalem and the West Bank to the tune of some 5,000 new housing units, in an effort to “offset” the release of Palestinian prisoners earlier this week.

In addition to finally implementing a prior plan to build 1,500 apartments in East Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, the government will also market land for the immediate construction of over 800 new housing units in the major settlement blocs.

It will also advance plans to build 2,500 new housing units throughout the West Bank, in both the settlement blocs and isolated settlements - but these units will still have to go through several additional stages of the planning process before construction can begin.

This wave of construction announcements will include three different types of projects:

1. Lots will be marketed to contractors for the immediate construction of 860 housing units in settlements that are part of the major blocs, including Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Betar Ilit, Karnei Shomron and Elkana.

2. New plans for the construction of 1,400 new units will be submitted to the Civil Administration’s planning committee. This is the very first stage of the planning and building process, so several years are likely to pass before anything is actually built. Some of these units will be in the settlement blocs as well, but others will be in isolated settlements such as Shiloh, Talmon, Alei Zahav and Almog.

3. Existing plans to build another 1,100 units, which had already been submitted to the Civil Administration’s planning committee, will be advanced to the next stage of the process. Some of these units will also be in isolated settlements like Shiloh and Nokdim.  But in this case, too, it will be over a year at the very earliest before construction actually begins.

The approval for construction in the West Bank settlements was revealed by MK Ofir Akunis (Likud) on Wednesday at the Knesset plenum. "The building in Judea and Samaria will continue and be intensified," said Akunis.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the renewal of constructions as "destructive to the peace efforts," adding it "only lead to more tensions."

"It's a message to the international community that Israel is a state that doesn't abide by international law and continues to put obstacles in the way of peace," said. Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also criticized the move, calling it an obstacle to peace.

U.S.  State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki also condemned Israel's announcement, stating: “We do not believe construction in settlements or East Jerusalem is helpful to the process or creates a positive atmosphere for continued negotiations.”

News of the construction plans for the West Bank came just hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced just as the second group of Palestinian prisoners were being welcomed in Ramallah Tuesday night that Israel “move forward immediately” on a series of controversial construction plans in areas of Jerusalem which lie across the Green Line.

The plans, some of which are recycled versions of older ones that have already been in the pipeline for some years, will fortify the Jewish presence in Jerusalem while obstructing expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods.

The announcement was made public in the middle of the night, in an attempt to blunt the right wing's protests against the prisoner release.

Officials in the interior minister’s bureau said Netanyahu and Sa’ar had agreed on moving forward concurrently with four controversial construction projects across the Green Line in Jerusalem:

1. The establishment of Mount Scopus Slopes National Park. As part of this plan, a national park will be established on areas east of the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus. The planned park is to be built between the Palestinian neighborhoods of Isawiyah and A-Tur, at the expense of land that had been intended for those neighborhoods’ expansion.

Officials in the interior minister’s bureau say the plan includes areas for rest and recreation, walking paths, bicycle paths, farming and environmental protection - but employees of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority admitted over the past weeks that the real purpose of the park was to block construction in the Palestinian neighborhoods.

Only three weeks ago, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, who is in charge of the Nature and Parks Authority, announced the plans were being frozen until further notice “to examine its international implications.”

2. Reviving the plan to establish the Kedem Center, a tourism and archaeological center in the Palestinian village of Silwan. A year and a half ago, Jerusalem’s District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of the visitors’ center, to be built over the Givati parking lot, opposite the entrance to the City of David. The plan was put forward by Elad, the non-profit organization working for the expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, including in Palestinian areas.

3. “Reinforcing” the plan to build 1,500 housing units in Ramat Shlomo. This means that within several months, it will be possible to start issuing building permits and marketing land to contractors. This is a recycled version of the same controversial building plan that has been moving slowly through the pipeline for some years. An announcement of progress on this plan during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel in March 2010 caused a severe crisis between Israel and the United States, resulting in the plan’s suspension. After the UN accorded the Palestinians the status of a non-member observer state in November 2012, the plan was reactivated and has been moving slowly forward since then.

4. Reviving three more building plans in Ramat Shlomo that will allow construction of an additional room of up to 50 square meters in existing housing units there. The plans do not allow for the expansion of the neighborhood’s borders, but rather an increase in the number of residents.

The road leading to the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.Credit: Reuters

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