EU Says Future Ties With Israel Hinge on Engagement to Peace Based on Two States

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New homes being built in the West Bank settlement of Betar Ilit, September 4, 2014.Credit: AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday defended his policy of settlement construction, telling a lawmaker from his Likud faction that he was "committed to construction in every part of Judea and Samaria [West Bank]."

In his remarks to MK Tzipi Hotovely, of his Likud faction, Netanyahu added that his policy had not changed on the matter. "What has changed is not our policy toward construction, but policies to our regard. Forces both external and internal claiming that they are in favor of settlement blocs are not prepared to have us building in Jerusalem."

He added that of the 10,000 housing units constructed in Jerusalem over the last six years, 7,000 were built in the eastern part of the city, and 3,000 on the western side.

Earlier Monday, Netanyahu revealed that he was pushing forward plans for 1,060 new housing units in Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line.

The U.S. and the European Union condemned the decision, with State Department Spokesman Jen Psaki saying Washington was "deeply concerned" by reports of Netanyahu's plans.

"If Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps that will reduce tensions,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday during a regular news briefing. “Moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.”

“We view settlement activities as illegitimate and we are unequivocally opposed to unilateral steps,” Psaki told reporters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Netanyahu by telephone following the prime minister's announcement, to discuss the building plan, Psaki said.

The European Union asked for clarifications and said such a decision, if confirmed, would be "ill-judged and ill-timed" and "would call into "serious question Israel's commitment to a negotiated solution with the Palestinians."

“We stress that the future development of relations between the EU and Israel will depend on (its) engagement towards a lasting peace based on a two-state solution," said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, appealed to the United Nations Security Council to convene an urgent session calling on Israel to halt its disruptions in Jerusalem, and the ongoing actions by settlers against the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Netanyahu announced the decision on Monday following pressure from Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria and the Habayit Hayehudi party, which threatened to destabilize the coalition.

Sources at the Prime Minister's Office said plans would be advanced for 660 housing units in Ramat Shlomo and 400 in Har Homa, both of which are Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

According to the sources, Netanyahu also ordered the advancement of infrastructure projects in West Bank settlements that are "necessary from a security and safety perspective." The leading such project is the paving of 12 new roads.

"The infrastructure development will serve both Israelis and Palestinians," said sources at the Prime Minister's Office. Netanyahu's orders were only to plan the housing units in East Jerusalem, and not to actually build them.

An analysis of the numbers submitted in Prime Minister's Office announcement suggest that Netanyahu was referring to various plans put on hold that are being reopened for debate.

Plan 11094 calls for building 660 housing units in the area between the Haredi neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo and the Arab neighborhood of Shoafat. The plan was last discussed in 2006 and has been on hold ever since. The Har Homa plan looks like a plan known as "West Har Homa," which includes 398 housing units and has not been discussed for years. Planners even decided in January to shelve it.

In addition, at this stage, Netanyahu has not met the demands of the council and Habayit Hayehudi to publish tenders for the immediate construction of 2,000 new housing units in West Bank settlements.

In response to Netanyahu's decision to advance the housing plans, Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said, "Israel's escalation in occupied Jerusalem and in the holy places, as well as the dangerous daily violations, and the new announcement about building in Jerusalem constitute dangerous steps that oblige condemnation."

He said Israel's aggressiveness is accelerating the PA's decision to carry out its decision to turn to international organizations and the UN Security Council in the very near future. 

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