Making the occupation irreversible: Israel releases tenders for 1859 settler units
Israel issued tenders to build 1,859 settler housing units Sunday ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry aimed at pushing the peace process forward, an NGO said.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now told AFP that 1,031 plots were offered by Israel’s housing and construction ministry in the occupied West Bank and 828 in annexed East Jerusalem, and that successful bidders would be able to start construction shortly.
“Within a few months they will choose the winning bids and the successful contractors will be able to start building within a number of weeks [after that],” the group’s Hagit Ofran said.
The Palestinians, who have long viewed settlements as a major obstacle to resolving the decades-old conflict, threatened to go to the UN Security Council over the latest Israeli move.
“The PLO is considering a mechanism to go to the Security Council and the UN against these new Israeli decisions, especially as there are international resolutions that consider settlements illegal,” Palestine Liberation Organisation senior member Wassel Abu Youssef told AFP, without elaborating.
Kerry sought Sunday to calm fears that peace talks were faltering.
“I remain hopeful, and we will make every effort in the United States to move the process forward in a fair-handed way, a balanced way that reflects the complexity of these issues,” he said shortly after arriving in Cairo on the first stop of an 11-day tour, which will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
He stressed that the United States remained committed to helping the parties reach a final peace deal, but acknowledged recent tensions over Israel’s stated intention to keep building settler housing units.
“There is no doubt ... that the settlements have disturbed people’s perceptions of whether or not people are serious and are moving in the right direction,” he admitted.
After almost three years of stalemate, Kerry persuaded the two sides in late July to resume negotiations aimed at achieving two states living side by side.
He has insisted that participants maintain silence on the progress of the negotiations, in order to prevent any efforts to torpedo the talks.
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Saar were reported to have agreed to build 1,500 new housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo.
That news broke almost immediately after Israel began freeing 21 prisoners to the West Bank and another five to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, in line with commitments to the US-backed peace efforts.
The sequence of events mirrored an earlier prisoner release on August 13, when a first tranche of 26 prisoners was freed and Israel announced construction of more than 2,000 new settler housing units, most of them in East Jerusalem.
“Whenever Netanyahu makes a small step towards peace he makes two larger steps to make it harder to get to peace,” Peace Now said.
“The tenders that were published today [Sunday] ... will not only make the talks harder but would create facts on the ground that will make the two-state solution much harder”.
Previous plans to build in Ramat Shlomo were announced during a March 2010 visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, sparking outrage in Washington, which had been trying to revive peace talks.
Peace Now’s Ofran said that of the East Jerusalem sites offered for sale on Sunday, 700 were in Ramat Shlomo.
Israel captured east Jerusalem during the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
Last month, an Israeli official said new tenders were to be announced in the large settlement blocs and in East Jerusalem “in the coming months” as part of “understandings” reached with both the Palestinians and Washington.
The Palestinians flatly denied any such agreement.
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