December 1, 2012

Israel to build on occupied territory

The plan is a reminder that while the Palestinians have a state on paper, it's still under Israeli control.

The Associated Press

JERUSALEM - Israel responded swiftly Friday to U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state, revealing it will build 3,000 more homes for Jews on Israeli-occupied lands that the world body overwhelmingly said belong to the Palestinians.

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Israel’s approval of more Jewish homes in occupied lands, like these under construction in the West Bank, appears a defiant response to U.N. recognition of the Palestinian state.

The Associated Press

The plans also include future construction in a strategic area of the West Bank where critics have long warned that Jewish settlements would kill hopes for a viable Palestinian state.

Israel's moves served as a harsh reminder to Palestinians -- euphoric over the U.N. upgrade -- that while they now have a state on paper, most of it remains very much under Israeli control.

"This is a doomsday scenario," Daniel Seidemann of Ir Amim, a group that promotes coexistence in Jerusalem, said of the building plans.

Israel's decision was bound to embarrass the United States, which was among just nine countries in the 193-member General Assembly to vote against accepting Palestine as a nonmember observer state.

Accelerated settlement construction could also set a more confrontational tone as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas weighs his next moves.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland criticized the Israeli announcement. "These actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution," she said.

Friday's decision was taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and eight senior Cabinet ministers, according to the Israeli news website Ynet.

The plans include 3,000 new apartments in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as preparations for new construction in other large West Bank settlements, including Maaleh Adumim, near east Jerusalem, said an Israeli government official.

Among the projects is an expansion of Maaleh Adumim, known as E-1, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the decision with reporters.

Successive U.S. administrations have pressured Israel not to build in E-1 because it would effectively cut off east Jerusalem from the West Bank, and split the northern part of the territory from the southern part. Israel has said in the past it envisions 3,500 apartments there.

"E-1 will be the death of the two-state solution," said Seidemann, referring to the establishment of a state of Palestine alongside Israel. "If the pronouncements are to be treated seriously, we are months away from the implementation of E-1."

Tzipi Livni, Israel's former foreign minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians, warned that "the decision to build thousands of housing units as punishment to the Palestinians only punishes Israel ... (and) only isolates Israel further."

Since 1967, the number of Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem has risen to half a million, compared with 2.7 million Palestinians in those areas, and continued construction makes partition of the land increasingly unlikely.

 

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