Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided Thursday to unfreeze planning processes for 1,800 housing units in the settlements that have been frozen the last three months, in response to the establishment of the Palestinian unity government earlier this week.
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The announcement comes just hours after the Housing Ministry published tenders for 1,500 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Wednesday, a move termed by Minister Uri Ariel as a response to the new Palestinian unity cabinet.
"When Israel is spat upon, it has to do something about it," Ariel told Israel Radio, adding that construction tenders had been issued as a response to what he termed a Palestinian "terrorist government."
The new move, revealed on Thursday, calls for the advancement of planning processes at various stages. Planning processes for settlements at the interim stage, include 550 units in Bruchin, 381 units in Givat Ze'ev, 40 units in El Matan, 38 units in Kochav Ya'akov, 25 units in Alfei Menasheh, 54 units in Tzofit and 10 units in Oranit.
In the Alei Zahav settlement, 683 will be promoted at the advanced stage, the last stage before marketing for construction. The units were approved already in 1985, however had to undergo a renewed approval process due to a chance in access roads to the settlements.
In addition, numerous housing units at the initial stage of the planning process, when they are publicized and subject to public opposition, will be promoted in the settlements Beit Arieh, Kiryat Netafim, Alon Shvut, Beitar Ilit, Ma'ale Adumim, Alfei Menasheh, Oranit and Ariel.
Western officials began issuing their reactions to the Israeli announcement on Thursday afternoon, both publicly and through diplomatic channels. The Dutch Ambassador to Israel, Casper Veldkamp told senior officials in the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister's Office that the government in the Hague is "disappointed" with the decision. U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro told Army Radio that the U.S. "opposes settlement construction and notifications of such construction."
The Palestinian Authority levied sharp criticism of the decision on Thursday, calling it another nail in the coffin of the two-state solution. PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi said the Palestinians will appeal to the UN Security Council and the General Assembly, demanding they act against settlement construction. Mahmoud Abbas' adviser Nabil Abu Rudeina said the Palestinian reaction will be "unprecedented."
He said the announcement comes as the international community is expressing support for the Palestinian unity government. He added that Israel should internalize the fact that its settlement policy is not advancing any solution.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in an interview to Palestinian radio that the time has come for Israel to take responsibility for and pay the price for its violations of international law, hinting that it may turn to UN institutions and to the International Criminal Court. However, a Palestinian official told Haaretz that despite Abu Rudeina and Erekat's threats, no formal decision has been made in the matter.
He said that the Palestinian Authority is currently discussing options, and considering whether to utilize the help of the organizations it has already turned to or to apply for more, primarily the ICC.
The official also clarified that all Abbas' steps are being coordinated with the Arab League and the Americans, adding that he will not make any drastic moves without their backing.
Another member of the Palestinian negotiating team added, "We think that Israel is responding hysterically mostly because of the wave of international support for the new Palestinian government and especially that of the U.S. Since Israel doesn't have the tools or the will to punish the U.S. or Europe, it is punishing the Palestinians."