Palestinians blast Netanyahu over fresh batch of settlement homes

Spokesman for Abbas says Israeli West Bank construction undermines Trump’s peace push, though White House more blasé

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Construction of new buildings in the Israeli settlement of Na'ale on February 8, 2017.(FLASH90)
Construction of new buildings in the Israeli settlement of Na'ale on February 8, 2017.(FLASH90)

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned on Tuesday the latest batch of settlement homes that were advanced by Israel through various stages this week, saying they were in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Highlighted in Nabil Abu Rudeineh’s reprimand were 300 units in the Beit El settlement approved to be marketed for sale, the last stage in the permitting process, as well as the authorization of building permits for 31 units for the Jewish settlement in Hebron.

The PA president’s spokesman told the Palestinian Wafa news agency that the promotion of roughly 2,000 houses this week are in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, particularly resolution 2334.

That motion, passed last December, demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

“This settlement assault comes at a time when the administration of US President Donald Trump is exerting effort and creating the conditions that will pave the way for making a real peace,” Abu Rudeineh said.

Construction workers begin work on the new settlement, Amichai, meant to resettle the evacuees of Amona, June 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking with The Times of Israel, a White House official struck a more mild chord. “President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements and the administration has made clear that unrestrained settlement activity does not advance the prospect for peace.”

“At the same time the Administration recognizes that past demands for a settlement freeze have not helped advance peace talks,” the official concluded.

While in the early days of the Trump administration the White House insisted that settlements were not “an impediment to peace,” during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in February, the president told the prime minister that he’d like him to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” and said in a Hebrew newspaper interview that settlements are “not a good thing for peace.”

In its first of two meetings this week, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction in the West Bank advanced plans for 1,292 housing units across the West Bank Tuesday.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee also approved 296 homes to be marketed for sale in Beit El, thus fulfilling a promise that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made to the evacuees of the settlement’s illegal Ulpana outpost, which was razed in 2012.

Israeli border police seen evacuating the Machpela House in Hebron on April 4, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Of the 1,292 units advanced Tuesday, 562 are located outside the so-called “settlement blocs” that Israel has vowed to retain under any future peace deal, with mutually agreed land swaps with the Palestinians. Among them were plans that gained final approval for settlements that lie deep in the West Bank, such as Nokdim (146 units) and Rehelim (97 units). This in addition to projects in Tomer (55 units) and Maskiot (27 units) that are in the Jordan Valley.

In the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, 344 units were advanced for Kfar Etzion and 68 units were advanced in the Elazar. In addition, plans were approved for the settlements of Barkan (56 units), Nofim (170 units), Beit Aryeh (8 units) and Har Adar (10 units).

The High Planning Subcommittee will be convening again on Wednesday, and — barring bureaucratic issues with the plans brought before them — will advance plans for some 650 additional housing units.

On Monday, a separate Defense Ministry body — the Civil Administration’s Licensing Subcommittee — granted building permits building permits for 31 housing units for the Jewish settlement in Hebron.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

This was first time in 15 years that Israeli construction has been approved in the flashpoint West Bank city and was seen as an Israeli response to the recent decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to list Hebron’s Old City as an endangered Palestinian world heritage site.

Nonetheless, Hebron’s Palestinian municipality is expected to petition against the decision in the coming weeks, claiming to have a protected tenancy status over the land in question.

Raphael Ahren contributed to his report.


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