Just one week before elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced his approval of 3,500 new illegal settler homes in the highly contested ‘E1’ area of the central occupied West Bank.
“I have given instructions to immediately publish for deposit the plan to build 3,500 housing units in E-1,” Netanyahu said in a speech on Tuesday, adding that the plans “had been delayed for six or seven years.”
Israel’s plans for the E1 corridor, which has been in the works since 1995, has been consistently delayed due to pressure from the international community, including the EU and former US administration.
The E1 plan seeks to create a settlement bloc connecting the mega settlement of Ma’ale Adumim with Jerusalem, effectively splitting the West Bank in two, cutting off the north from the south.
The consequences of the plan came to light in recent years through the fight to save the bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, who fall right in the middle of the E1 corridor, from forcible expulsion.
Their community would be one of dozens of Bedouin enclaves in the corridor who would be forcibly evicted from their homes if the plans are seen through.
The announcement came just one week before the Israeli public will head back to the polls for the third time in a year to elect their prime minister, after two failed attempts by Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz to form governing coalitions.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud government has relied on the support of the settlers for their support in the past two elections, and has used similar political offerings in order to guarantee their support.
In the first round of elections in April last year, he vowed to annex the hundreds of settlements in the occupied West Bank, and ahead of the September elections, he furthered that promise by vowing to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, which comprises one third of the entire West Bank.
Palestinian leaders slammed Netanyahu for the announcement, and called on EU member states to step in and prevent Israeli construction in the area.
Criticizing the plan as a “colonial project,” chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat released a statement condemning the US for giving the greenlight for Israel to move forward with such plans.
“Per the agreed-upon plan between the U.S. and Israel teams, Israel now continues to impose new illegal facts on the ground that systematically violate international law and human rights, annihilate the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine, and threaten the very peace and security of the entire region,” Erekat said.
“It is now clear for the international community that this vision of annexation only aims at burying the prospects of a negotiated solution,” he continued, calling for the international community to put sanctions on Israel for its violations of international law in the occupied territory.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now slammed the decision, saying “building in E1 would sever this territorial connection, torpedoing the possibility for a viable Palestinian state if Israel insists on retaining the land.”
“Israel is officially choosing to risk perpetual conflict instead of resolving it. It is no less than a national disaster that must be stopped before it is too late,” the group said