Israel approves 829 new settlement units near Jerusalem

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New section of housing in the Jewish settlement of Givat Ze'ev, West Bank, July 17, 2013. (Photo: Debbie Hill/UPI)

New section of housing in the Jewish settlement of Givat Ze’ev, West Bank, July 17, 2013. (Photo: Debbie Hill/UPI)

Two weeks ago Prime Minister Netanyahu announced then quickly cancelled an order to build 20,000 new settlement units. He had angered American officials, pressed their limits, and then tabled Israeli expansion into the West Bank when it seemed the negotiations process was on the line. But today Peace Now announced Netanyahu is moving forward with the settlement project, approving over 800 new units north of Jerusalem in the neighborhoods of Givat Zeev, Nofei Prat, Shilo, Givat Salit, Nokdim and Amihai.

From the AFP: 

‘The construction of 829 homes has been approved by a committee of the Israeli military in charge of the West Bank,’ said Lior Amihai, a Peace Now official.

‘This is yet another move that threatens to derail the peace process,’ Amihai told AFP.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has warned that ongoing settlement building by Israel in the Palestinian territories threatens the future of Middle East peace talks, which stand at an impasse little more than three months after they began.

The new homes would be built north of Jerusalem in the settlements of Givat Zeev, Nofei Prat, Shilo, Givat Salit and Nokdim, Amihai said.

Even as the current round of nine months of direct peace talks were kicking off, Netanyahu shattered any expectation that Israel would curb settlement expansion. In the first few weeks of the meetings with Palestinian officials, Netanyahu approved 1,200 new units. Then over the summer he grazed the Obama administration’s red-line, approving thousands of units inside of area E1, a land corridor between Jerusalem and the West Bank where settlement expansion would end Palestinian territorial continuity. But after the E1 announcement, Netanyahu froze construction in the controversial zone. Still driving around area E1 just last week there is a visible construction site where Israel is expanding the separation barrier on the northern edge of E1. And so the 829 new settlements are like this patch of the wall. Netanyahu is controlling the parameters of debate. E1 is off limits and tens of thousands of new settlements are not possible. But a comparatively smaller order hovering close to a thousand new units passes undetected.

Cumulatively, since negotiation began last spring Israel is moving at its highest rate of settlement expansion in seven years. When the statistics were published over the summer Ari Shavit said it was a ploy to a end to a two-state solution. “The trend is clear: Within a short time the number of settlers will increase dramatically, as will their ability to block any attempt to divide the land. If it continues this way, the Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett government will put an end to the two-state solution, the Jewish democratic entity, and the Zionist dream,” the author of My Promised Land wrote in Haaretz.

Although Shavit has been know to exaggerate the political stakes at any current moment he is onto something here. Almost a year ago he wrote in a column, “After the settlers succeeded in preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state by occupying Judea and Samaria.” He notes settlers have fortified an “outpost” inside of the government, all the while building settler groups on the outside to kick out the polls of debate. Today in the Knesset there is an extreme rightwing working group banded together to normalize illegal outposts, even when the High Court has previously order their dismantling. Shavit calls this “conquering the central power structure of Israel in a well-planned pincer movement.” And outside of government there are settler spokesmen and even a pseudo foreign ministry taking anti-negotiations meetings with the U.S. congress. With their position firmly planted, it’s no surprise then that while Israel is talking about peace, Netanyahu is placating his party with 829 new settlements.

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