An Israeli settlement in Jerusalem overlooking a highway. (Photo: Xavier Malafosse/Wikimedia Commons)
Israeli settlement activity isn’t letting up.
A week before negotiations are set to take place in the Middle East for the latest round of peace talks, new West Bank settlement construction has been approved and a new settlement project in occupied Jerusalem was announced. The projects are confirmation of what a State Department official said last week: that “you are likely to see Israeli settlement [activity] continue” as the peace process grinds on.
Today, Haaretz‘s Chaim Levinson reports that Israel’s Civil Administration, a military agency, has approved plans for 878 housing units in far-flung settlements across the West Bank. They include approval for units that were built illegally under Israeli law but are now getting retroactive approval, a common approach taken by Israel when it comes to what are known as settlement “outposts.” The settlement units approved include 78 units in Gilgal, which is east of the settlement of Ariel. Some of the units still need to be approved by the Defense Ministry for construction to begin, though.
Today’s announcement comes days after Israel took a separate step that made it clear that the government has no intention of relinquishing any control of the West Bank–even of geographically isolated settlements. On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet approved a measure to subsidize 91 settlements, an increase from a total of 85. Some of the settlements now eligible for government money in the form of subsidies for housing and education are located in “outposts” that were recently legalized by the government.
The new West Bank settlements aren’t the only indication of Israel’s relentless drive to colonize occupied territory.
On Tuesday, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Housing Minister Uri Ariel and the Jerusalem mayor would attend a ceremony next week for a new Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. Reporter Nir Hasson wrote that the ceremony will mark the beginning of construction on the new settlement, which is located near the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber. The 63-unit plan was in the works for five years, but has been held up due to “political pressure,” according to Haaretz. The newest settlement will add to the woes of Jabal Mukkaber residents, who already have to contend with the settlement of Nof Zion, located in the middle of the Palestinian neighborhood.
Palestinian officials reacted strongly to the news. “Israel is using the negotiations even before they start as a cover for its settlement activities,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told the Los Angeles Times. “It will be impossible to have a political process while there are extensive efforts to create facts on the ground that will prejudge the outcome of the negotiations.” Still, it’s unlikely that the PA will step away from the peace process at this point.
The moves towards building new settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank occurred a week before U.S. peace process envoy Martin Indyk is reportedly set to arrive in the Israel for talks with government officials.
More settlement units are likely in the pipeline, if Israeli media reports are to be believed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly told Secretary of State John Kerry that up to 1,000 tenders for new housing units in what are known as settlement blocs will be issued while peace talks go on.
Meanwhile, new figures released by the Israeli army show that the population of settlers in the West Bank increased by 7,700 during the first six months of 2013.