US encouraging Israel to approve more settlements, Palestinians say

PLO could suspend recognition of Israel in upcoming leadership meeting, Abbas adviser warns

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat talks during a press conference with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi, not pictured, at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, October 2, 2011. (Amr Nabil/AP)
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat talks during a press conference with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi, not pictured, at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, October 2, 2011. (Amr Nabil/AP)

The Palestine Liberation Organization’s top official, Saeb Erekat, charged Thursday that the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December has encouraged the Jewish state to “speed up” settlement construction in the West Bank.

On Wednesday the Defense Ministry approved 1,126 settlement homes. Of those, 352 gained final approval for construction and 774 were advanced through a planning stage known as a “deposit.”

“The Israeli government continues with its plan to bury all the chances of a political settlement by announcing the approval of 1,122 new illegal settlement units in 22 illegal colonial-settlements in Occupied Palestine,” Erekat said in a statement, employing a number reported by Peace Now.

“President [Donald] Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital did not only disqualify the US from playing any constructive role towards achieving peace, but it provided the extremist Israeli government with an opportunity and a green light to speed up their plans of the disposition of the Palestinian people,” he added.

Construction in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit, with the Arab village of Wadi Fukin in the foreground, on June 17, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Palestinian leadership will convene on Sunday and Monday to formulate a response to Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

According to Erekat, during the meeting, the leadership “will discuss several recommendations toward holding Israel accountable to advance with the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee and a close adviser to Abbas, told the official Voice of Palestine radio on Thursday that a committee will propose suspending recognition of Israel “on the grounds that recognition could be only done between states.”

The settlement approvals were condemned by the European Union as “further jeopardizing the prospect of a contiguous and viable future Palestinian state.”

“The European Union’s position on Israeli settlement construction and related activities is clear and has not changed: all settlement activity is illegal under international law, and it undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace. The EU expects the Israeli authorities to reconsider and reverse these decisions,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a Thursday statement.

France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs also issued a statement, taking particular issue with the advancement of a project to provide building permits for seven of the 15 homes in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost that sit only marginally on private Palestinian land.

The statement called the approval a “contravention of the Supreme Court ruling which ordered its evacuation by March 2018.”

The United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, also slammed Israel’s decision to approve more settlement homes, saying it was an obstacle to peace.

“In the aftermath of the decision to advance over 1,000 housing units in the occupied West Bank, I reiterate that Israeli settlement construction is illegal under international law and is one of the major obstacles to peace. I urge the Israeli authorities to cease and reverse such actions,” Mladenov said in a statement.

“Settlement-related activities undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-state solution,” he added.

According to the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, 6,742 housing projects were approved in the settlements last year, the highest figure since 2013.

Much of the international community considers settlements illegal and a major obstacles to peace, as they are built on land the Palestinians claim for their future state.

Friends and family attend the funeral of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, 35, in the West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad on January 10, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Wednesday’s settlement home approvals came as Rabbi Raziel Shevach, who was shot to death by a Palestinian a day earlier, was laid to rest in the West Bank outpost of Havat Maon. Both during and before the funeral of the rabbi, settler leaders and right-wing lawmakers called for substantial settlement building in response to the attack.

When Education Minister Naftali Bennett was heckled by mourners chanting “revenge,” the Jewish Home party leader attempted to calm the crowd by saying that “the only revenge is to keep building.”

However, Wednesday’s approvals marked a considerable decrease from the last time the Defense Ministry’s committee for settlement construction approval, the Civil Administration High Planning subcommittee, last convened in October. Then, it advanced 2,646 Israeli housing units with 1,323 earning final approval for construction.

Under unofficial settlement guidelines coordinated with the White House when Trump took office, Israel agreed that the committee would meet once every three months instead of once every month. In addition, Israel was told it could add an unlimited number of housing units to any settlement in the West Bank as long as they do not dramatically expand the community’s existing “footprint.”

In a December 6 speech, Trump said his decision merely recognized the reality that Jerusalem already serves as Israel’s capital and wasn’t meant to prejudge the final borders of the city. He called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites. However, the US leader later said he had taken Jerusalem “off the table.”

Trump’s move was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum, while enraging Palestinians and prompting condemnations worldwide.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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