Israel to Start Building Nearly 1,200 New Units in West Bank and East Jerusalem

Both the Palestinians and the Americans knew in advance that Israel would release this latest announcement about construction and it is still unclear how this will affect the peace negotiations meeting planned for Wednesday in Jerusalem.

Barak Ravid
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Barak Ravid

Israel's Housing Ministry announced Sunday the marketing of land for the immediate construction of nearly 1,200 new units in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement blocs.

About 793 residential units will be sold in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line, with 400 in the neighborhood of Gilo, 210 in Har Homa (Homat Shmuel), 92 in Ma'aleh Adumim and 183 in Pisgat Ze'ev. Another 394 units will be sold in West Bank settlement blocs, including 117 in Ariel, 149 in Efrat and 36 in Beitar Illit.

Haaretz revealed two weeks ago that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had informed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that in the coming months of negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel would restrict construction in the settlements and limit it to 1,000 new units.

Senior Israeli officials noted at the time that Israel would announce new construction parallel to the government's decision to release 104 Palestinian prisoners jailed before the Oslo Accords.

The announcement regarding the units for sale comes just hours before the special ministerial committee will convene to select the names of the first 26 Palestinian prisoners to be released in the initial stage, which is expected to occur on Tuesday.

Israeli and Palestinian Authority negotiating teams will meet the next day in Jerusalem to resume peace negotiations, accompanied by special U.S. envoy Martin Indyk.

Both the Palestinians and the Americans knew in advance of Israel's latest construction plans.

Shortly before the plans were announced, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Israel's intention to build new homes in Jewish settlements were aimed to scupper the peace talks.

"Those who do these things are determined to undermine the peace negotiations, are determined to force people like us to leave the negotiating table," he told Reuters on Sunday.

"If the Israeli government believes that every week they're going to cross a red line by settlement activity, if they go with this behavior, what they're advertising is the unsustainability of the negotiations," he added.

Erekat's remarks echoed a letter he wrote to Kerry last week, telling the secretary of state that the new construction attests to a lack of good faith on Israel's part and its lack of seriousness when it comes to the diplomatic process.

Over the weekend Netanyahu reacted in a similar letter to the U.S. secretary of state, in which he claimed that even after the announcement of the renewal of negotiations, the PA continues its incitement against Israel. A senior official in Netanyahu's bureau noted that the prime minister protested to Kerry about the fact that official PA members continue to call for the destruction of Israel, even after the renewal of the peace talks.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday slammed the decision to go forth with the sales of the units as a "double mistake", saying that solutions to the housing crisis must be implemented in "desirable" areas and under the authority of the government's housing cabinet.

"Using resources intended for middle class housing in order to prove a useless defiant point to the Americans and throw a stick into the wheels of peace negotiations is wrong and ineffective for the process," Lapid said.

Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On also lambasted the decision as a "roadside bomb rigged by the Israeli government to destroy the peace process before it has even begun. A deal with the Palestinians will not be reached as long as construction in the settlements continues. The only way to achieve a peace accord, she added, is based on the pre-1967 cease-fire lines with land swaps and the partition of Jerusalem.

Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich denounced the decision as violently damaging any international credit Israel has received for agreeing to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

"Netanyahu has to decide what government he is leading – a government seeking a peace agreement or one seeking to prevent any possibility of such deal," said Yacimovich, who chairs the Labor Party. Such announcement is like "sticking a finger in the eyes of the United States, Europe, Palestinians and the majority of Israelis who want peace, she said.

Yacimovich added in her condemnation that while the government focuses on construction in the settlements, it is doing nothing to address the shortage of affordable housing for young couples in the rest of the country.

An archive photo of construction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.Credit: Daniel Bar On

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