France, PA condemn Israel’s construction plans for over 2,000 settlement homes
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France, PA condemn Israel’s construction plans for over 2,000 settlement homes

Paris says Defense Ministry’s approval of nearly 2,200 residential units will heighten tensions, while Palestinian Authority slams move as ‘illegitimate’

A crane is used at the construction site in the West Bank settlement of Amichai on September 7, 2018. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
A crane is used at the construction site in the West Bank settlement of Amichai on September 7, 2018. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

France and the Palestinian Authority on Thursday both condemned Israel’s green-lighting of nearly 2,200 West Bank settlement homes, saying the move undermined the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“France condemns this decision, which expands settlement activity in the West Bank,” the French foreign office said in a statement, according to the Reuters news agency.

The statement noted that the construction approval “heightens tensions,” and that a two-state solution is “the only way to ensure a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman also slammed the decision to advance the building work.

File: Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 5, 2017 (Flash90)

“All settlement building in Palestinian lands is illegitimate, according to international resolutions especially including UN Security Council resolution 2334,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh was quoted as saying by the PA’s official Wafa news agency.

UN Security Council resolution 2334 states that settlements have “no legal validity” and “constitute a flagrant violation of international law and a major obstacle to the achievement… of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

Abu Rudeineh added that settlements “in all Palestinian lands… will vanish,” as they did in the Gaza Strip, referring to Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the coastal enclave.

The Israeli Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction advanced plans for over 800 West Bank homes Wednesday, capping off a two-day session which saw plans for 2,191 settlement homes advanced.

Of the 839 home plans moved forward by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee, 352 gained final approval for construction while 487 homes had their plans cleared through an earlier planning stage known as “deposit.”

On Tuesday, 1,352 homes were approved by the High Planning Subcommittee, with 807 gaining final approval for construction and 545 clearing the earlier planning stage.

In total 2,191 settlement homes were advanced this week, of which 1,038 gained final clearance for construction.

The sessions were scheduled on December 25 and 26, when many foreign governments who typically release statements of concern over settlement building were off for the Christmas holiday.

The meetings also began a day after coalition leaders announced that Israel would be heading to elections on April 9 in a move largely believed to have been orchestrated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Among the plans advanced through the earlier planning stage Tuesday was a project for 82 homes in Ofra. Following a terror attack earlier this month at a bus stop outside the central West Bank settlement, Netanyahu vowed that he would advance building in the community.

Netanyahu also said he had directed the Defense Ministry to advance construction of industrial zones in Beitar Illit and Avnei Hefetz. These plans, which were already in the works before the attack, were green-lighted by the High Planning Subcommittee on Wednesday.

Roughly 87% of the homes advanced this week will be built east of the West Bank separation barrier and beyond the so-called settlement blocs that most Israelis believe will be retained in any peace agreement with the Palestinians.

A photograph of the construction work being done for a new neighborhood in the Ma’ale Amos settlement on June 18, 2017. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

The communities that saw plans given a final okay included Adora (18), Tene (135), Ma’ale Michmash (62), Givat Ze’ev (220), Neve Daniel (180) and Carmei Tzur (120).

Beit Haggai (94), Shiloh (75) and Halamish (100) all had plans clear the earlier planning stage known as “deposit.” (Historically, housing plans were physically deposited in the offices of the planning committee for the public to review, and this is how British Mandate law, adopted by Israel after 1948, referred to the stage.)

Among the communities that had plans advanced through the deposit stage Wednesday were the northern West Bank settlements of Yitzhar (121), Shavei Shomron (152) and Har Bracha (152).

Several non-residential projects were also advanced that the Peace Now settlement watchdog slammed as the effective establishment by Israel of new outposts. A project for an educational campus on a hilltop near the Ma’ale Michmash settlement and a plan for a cemetery near Nahal Rava were both given final authorization for construction. Neither of the projects will be located inside the borders of existing settlements.

At its last meeting in August, the Civil Administration advanced plans for over 1,000 homes in the West Bank, with nearly 400 of them gaining final approval for construction. This is in addition to hundreds more that were simultaneously placed on the market by the Housing Ministry.

Projects for homes in the Ibei Hanahal (98 houses) and Gvaot (61 houses) outposts were also approved at the time through the deposit stage. Despite their locations over a mile away from the Ma’ale Amos and Alon Shvut settlements, the High Planning Subcommittee considered the outposts to be neighborhoods of those settlements and therefore agreed to green-light the plans.

The Civil Administration’s sessions Tuesday and Wednesday were among the quarterly gatherings the Defense Ministry body holds, following a reported agreement with the White House to not hold more frequent sittings.

The UN’s Mideast peace envoy earlier this month pointed to figures showing a slowdown in settlement housing starts over the last quarter, though that did not include the homes approved this week.

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