Israeli interior ministry announced on Tuesday that it had approved plans to build 1,100 new homes in Gilo (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk), a settler enclave in southeast Jerusalem, a move condemned by the European Union and the United States.
The announcement has been described as “counter-productive” to peace talks by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The EU said the plan should be “reversed”.
Less than a week ago Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has submitted a request for full UN membership. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as capital of their future state but Israel says that the entire city – which is home to Jewish, Muslims and Christian holy sites – is its and will not be divided.
The issue of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem led to a deadlock in the US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians last year.
According to Ms Clinton attempts to resume direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority will be damaged by Tuesday’s announcement : “We have long urged both sides to avoid any kind of action which could undermine trust, including, and perhaps most particularly, in Jerusalem, any action that could be viewed as provocative by either side.”
At the EU parliament, Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said that she heard the news “with deep regret”.
“This plan should be reversed. Settlement activity threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution and runs contrary to the Israeli-stated commitment to resume negotiations.”
She added that when she next met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu she would raise the issue. “He should stop announcing them and, more importantly, stop building them,” she said, arguing that it was wrong to settle people in a place from which they may have to leave.
In a statement Ms Ashton said : “Last Friday, the Quartet called on the Israelis and Palestinians to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to resume and be effective.”
“I therefore deplore today’s decision… I call on the Israeli authorities to reverse this plan.”
The Quartet of Mid East negotiators is made of the US, the EU, Russia and the UN.
In a statement British Foreign Secretary William Hague also urged Israel to revoke its decision : “Settlement expansion is illegal under international law, corrodes trust and undermines the basic principle of land for peace.”
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the Israeli move amounts to “1,100 no’s to the resumption of peace talks”. He then urged the US to change its position and support the Palestinians in their UN bid for recognition.
The UN Security Council met on Monday for its first discussion on the Palestinian request. In order to pass the application would need the approval of at least nine out of 15 council members and no vetoes from permanent members, but the US has already said it would use its veto.
According to the Ynet news website the plan includes the construction of small housing units, public buildings, a school and an industrial zone.
“According to the Basic Law, which is equivalent to a constitution, this area is within the sovereign territory of the State of Israel, and we are fulfilling our duty in making sure it will remain that way, and not be subject to any foreign ownership,” said Yair Gabbay, a member of the interior ministry committee who also serves as a Jerusalem councillor.
“Jerusalem is not for sale,” he added. “It has been, and will always be, the capital of the Jewish people.”
Over the past two years Israel has approved the building of almost 3,000 homes in Gilo, on land it captured in 1967.
Areas within the Jerusalem municipality are not considered as settlements by Israel.
In the meantime the UN rapporteurs on housing, water, sanitation and food rights said that this year there had been a “dramatic increase” in the demolitions.
In a statement they said that “the impact and discriminatory nature of these demolitions and evictions is completely unacceptable”.
“These actions by the Israeli authorities violate human rights and humanitarian law and must end immediately.”
Since 1967, Israel has settled about 500,000 Jews in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Although they are considered illegal under international law, Israel disputes this.