Saturday 24 August 2019

Israel plans new houses on occupied West Bank

Housing plan: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Reuters
Housing plan: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Reuters

Dan Williams

Israel will build 6,000 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank - a move Palestinian leaders decried as showing its "colonial mentality" - but in a rare step it also approved permits for 700 houses for Palestinians.

Washington warmed to yesterday's announcement, made ahead of a visit by President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy and son-in-law Jared Kushner to explore prospects for his own Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

The Palestinian leadership has rejected US diplomacy, saying the Trump administration is biased towards Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a conservative drumming up ultra-nationalist support ahead of a September 17 election, has hinted Israel could annex its West Bank settlements in defiance of world powers deeming them illegal.

Most settlements are concentrated in Area C of the West Bank, which under the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords is fully controlled by Israel.

The Palestinians seek to end the Israeli occupation of territory seized in the 1967 Middle East conflict and set up their own state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Israeli officials said yesterday that Mr Netanyahu's cabinet had approved permits for 6,000 new homes for settlers and 700 new homes for Palestinians in Area C, in what they described as a bid to rein in pirate construction.

Saying it rejected any Israeli construction or controls over Palestinian construction in the West Bank, the Palestinian leadership dismissed the housing announcement.

The Foreign Ministry in Ramallah called it "evidence of the dark colonial mentality of the rulers in Israel and which ignores all United Nations resolutions, international law and the signed agreements".

The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said the permits for the Palestinians were the first for some time. "We spend lots of time speaking with the Israelis about improving conditions in the West Bank and Gaza," he said.

Mr Friedman sidestepped questions about whether the Trump administration foresaw a Palestinian state or Israeli annexations of West Bank land. "We want the Palestinians to have autonomy. We want the Palestinians to govern themselves," he said.

"Israel has not presented to us any plan to retain or annex any portion of the West Bank and we have no view on it at all right now," Mr Friedman added.

Jewish settlements in occupied territory are one of the most contentious of the conflict and a main reason why the peace process based on the 1993 accords has run aground.

Following a previous announcement on new settler houses in April, the European Union reiterated that all settlement activity was illegal under international law.

Irish Independent

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