Defense minister okays 296 homes in West Bank settlement

Palestinians say move proves Israel doesn’t want peace; US says settlement construction counteractive to peace efforts

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

The Ulpana outpost, adjacent to the Beit El settlement (Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)
The Ulpana outpost, adjacent to the Beit El settlement (Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)

The civil administration in the West Bank on Thursday approved the construction of 296 new houses in the settlement of Beit El, north of Jerusalem, in a move that elicited censure from Palestinian officials.

The homes slated for construction were part of a 2012 agreement according to which settlers peacefully left their homes at the Ulpana outpost — which an Israeli court determined were built on privately owned Palestinian land — in return for new homes to be rebuilt elsewhere.

The move was approved by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

The approval came a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator, in Rome.

“We updated the Americans immediately to tell them that this is what is at issue, and therefore there is no cause for drama or anger,” Livni said Thursday during an interview with Army Radio.

State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell responded to a press inquiry Thursday by reiterating President Barack Obama’s stance that   Israel “must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable with real borders that have to be drawn.”

“This is something we’ve said many times, and our position hasn’t changed,” Ventrell said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat charged that Israel was sabotaging US efforts to restart peace talks.

“The decision destroys the peace process and [US President Barack] Obama and [Secretary of State John] Kerry’s attempts to revive it,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The idea, Abu Rudeineh stated, proved that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government did not want peace and were leading the region down a path to violence.

Notwithstanding the decision to press forward with the Beit El project, Netanyahu has reportedly frozen tenders for construction in West Bank settlements amid the renewed Western push to resume peace talks.

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