Israel approved the advancement of building plans for more than 100 homes in two West Bank settlements on Sunday, while US Secretary of State John Kerry was in the region trying to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace progress, despite having promised not to do so.
A further stage in the construction of more than 100 homes at Ofra, and 26 at Karnei Hashomron, was approved and formally announced on the Interior Ministry’s website on Sunday, Army Radio reported on Monday afternoon.
Peace Now said the number was higher: 250 homes at Ofra and 22 at Karnei Shomron.
Environment Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) said the move showed a lack of “responsibility” by the government.
Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer said the move demonstrated that the government had “no intention” of genuinely seeking a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Prior to Kerry’s visit, officials said they were delaying a planned announcement of new settlement construction so long as Kerry was visiting the region, saying it was inappropriate to publicize such plans during the American diplomat’s stay. Kerry left Israel on Monday after four days of shuttle diplomacy.
The tenders for new construction reported last week would be announced after Kerry departs, the officials said, with Haaretz quoting an Israeli source as saying: “Nobody has an intention of sticking a finger in Kerry’s eye.”
Kerry’s trip came days after Israel last Monday night released a third group of Palestinian prisoners; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was widely reported to be set to authorize construction of 1,400 homes over the pre-1967 Green Line — 600 in Jerusalem, and 800 in West Bank settlements — at around the same time as those releases, but postponed the announcement, which is expected in the coming days. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has urged the US to block the plans and last week threatened to rally the UN against Israel’s settlements, which he termed a “cancer.”
In March 2010, the government announced plans for new building in the East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, while US Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the country, a move that caused heavy strains in US-Israel ties and prompted an Israeli apology. The further expansion of that same neighborhood is reported to be included in the 600 homes set to be announced imminently by Netanyahu.