The Israeli government on Friday published tenders to build 430 settler homes in the West Bank, the head of an NGO that monitors settlement activity told AFP, in what a senior PLO official called a “war crime.” The Housing Ministry denied the tenders were new.
“It’s the opening of the settlement floodgates,” said Daniel Seidemann, head of the Terrestrial Jerusalem group, adding that the announcements were the first since October 2014 and unlikely to be the last before the March 17 general election.
He said that the new homes were to be built in four existing settlements across the West Bank — 112 in Adam, 156 in Elkana, 78 in Alfei Menashe and 84 in Kiryat Arba.
The Housing Ministry told Israel Radio that the tenders in question had been issued in the past, and were renewed automatically since construction did not take place after its initial approval.
Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official said the measure constituted a “war crime.”
“What the Israelis announced is part of a wider war… against the Palestinian people,” Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Wassel Abu Yusef told AFP.
“This is a war crime which should push the settlements issue to the International Criminal Court.”
Seidemann, whose group particularly monitors settlement in East Jerusalem, predicted that building plans there were likely to be announced soon.
“I don’t think it’s over,” he said. “I would be very concerned.”
He linked the new tenders to the election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud is competing with other right-wing parties for the settler vote.
“This could hardly be an accident,” he said. “It could not have taken place without Netanyahu’s knowledge and consent.”
On October 1, 2014, a Jerusalem committee gave its final approval to advance the construction of some 2,500 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos for both Jewish and Arab residents. The announcement drew an unusually sharp rebuke from the US, as Washington officials said the move would distance Israel from “even its closest allies” and raise questions about its commitment to seeking peace with Palestinians.
The almost identical comments from State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki and White House Spokesman Josh Earnest came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrapped up a meeting with US President Barack Obama, during which he pitched for the US and Israel to work together to boost other Arab states’ involvement in the Palestinian peace process.
Psaki said the US was “deeply concerned” over Israel’s approval of the East Jerusalem housing units.
“This step is contrary to Israel’s stated goal and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed with tenders or construction,” Psaki said, adding the move would “call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement.
“This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations,” she continued, calling her own language “strong.”
At the White House, Earnest echoed Psaki’s language and said the issue was discussed between Obama and Netanyahu.
“This development will only draw condemnation from the international community,” Earnest said. “It also would call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”
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