UN slams ‘worrying’ Israeli plans to build in West Bank, East Jerusalem

Peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov says moves promoted by Netanyahu endanger prospects for two-state solution

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

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov addresses a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, on March 24, 2016, at United Nations headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov addresses a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, on March 24, 2016, at United Nations headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The United Nations Middle East peace envoy condemned Israel’s recent advancement of construction plans in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that he said would effectively cut the West Bank in two and isolate some Palestinian neighborhoods.

The statement from Nickolay Mladenov, the special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, joined warnings from others in the international community against the building plans announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week.

“I am very concerned about Israel’s recent announcements regarding the advancement of settlement construction in Giv’at Hamatos and Har Homa [in East Jerusalem], as well as the worrying plans for 3,500 units in the controversial E1 area of the occupied West Bank,” Mladenov said in a statement.

“All settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace. If the E1 plan were to be implemented, it would sever the connection between northern and southern West Bank, significantly undermining the chances for establishing a viable and contiguous Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-state solution,” he continued. “I urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from such unilateral actions that fuel instability and further erode the prospects for resuming Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.”

Netanyahu announced last week that he had lifted restrictions on the construction of the controversial Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, saying that 3,000 homes would be built for Jewish residents there, in addition to another 2,200 housing units for Jews in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood.

He also announced plans to build in a strip of land in the West Bank East of Jerusalem called E1, effectively linking the capital to the large settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.

Critics say building in the Givat Hamatos and Har Homa areas of the southeast of the capital will effectively cut Palestinian neighborhoods in the city from Bethlehem in the West Bank.

The Palestinians view East Jerusalem as their future capital.

View of caravans in the Givat Hamatos neighborhood of Jerusalem on July 5, 2016. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

The plan for construction in Givat Hamatos was first brought forward in 2012, but was shelved after widespread condemnation in the international community.

Building in E1, which critics say will make a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank nearly impossible, has also been frozen for years due to international opposition.

The project Netanyahu referred to actually comprises two plans north of Ma’ale Adumim totaling 3,426 homes that were prepared by the government of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 and advanced through an early planning stage called “deposit” in 2004 by the Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon dropped the plans upon the request of US president George W. Bush.

In 2012, Netanyahu green-lit the resurrection of the plan and it was once again approved for “deposit.” The project had since been frozen due to what Netanyahu acknowledged Tuesday was pressure from European governments and the US.

Speaking at the B’Sheva conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said that he had ordered that the E1 project be advanced through the next planning stage in which its details are publicized in Israeli newspapers. Members of the public are then given the opportunity to present objections to the plans to the Civil Administration, before they can be given final approval for construction in a process that often takes two to three years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the B’sheva group, on February 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Peace Now settlement watchdog reported that Defense Ministry officials met with planners last week to prepare an outline for a new road for Palestinians that would go around E1 and Ma’aleh Adumim and allow Israel to annex the area.

“The only roads Israel paved for Palestinians in its 52 years of control over the Territories were designed to allow Israel to build settlements or barriers that block existing Palestinian routes,” Peace Now said, blasting the road plan.

On Thursday, the Civil Administration will convene to advance plans for over 1,100 settler homes throughout the West Bank in its first quarterly session of the 2020 calendar year. The 12 projects in 11 settlements on the docket include one for 620 homes in the central West Bank town of Eli, which will receive final approval for construction. Substantial development of the town had been frozen for decades due to petitions in the High Court of Justice by Palestinians claiming that the town was built on their land. The court officially sided with the settlers last week, allowing for the settlement to move forward with plans to expand.

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