The Israeli government has announced plans to build 800 new homes for Israeli settlers in and around occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported Sunday night.
The plans, which include 560 housing units in the Maale Adumim settlement in the occupied West Bank, were approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Sunday before he set out for a five-day tour of Africa.
On Friday, the government also announced plans to resume the process of building 42 homes in the Kiryat Arba settlement.
The housing units will be built directly without obtaining any other approvals. In a related context, Netanyahu stated that his government would make special efforts to intensify settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem. According to the Israeli media, Netanyahu issued directives during a cabinet meeting on Sunday to his ministers to work together on finding ways to support the settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. He said the cabinet would discuss in the coming meeting a plan to promote settlement construction in Kiryat Arba, east of al-Khalil.
The move came one day after a 13-year-old girl was stabbed to death inside the settlement.
In reaction to the stabbing, Netanyahu pledged to “strengthen” Israeli settlements across the West Bank.
from his side, Right-wing Israeli politicians denounced on Monday a decision by the Israeli government to approve construction plans in the Palestinian town of Beit Safafa in occupied East Jerusalem, claiming that the move, despite a spike in illegal settlement construction plans, represented a focus on the Palestinian community to the detriment of Jewish Israelis.
Israel approved the construction of 600 housing units in Beit Safafa on Sunday, Israeli media reported, more than a month after a court rejected a freeze on the plan, which had initially been approved three years earlier but stalled based on a reportedly secret decision by senior Israeli officials.
The rare Israeli approval for construction in a Palestinian-majority area has come after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman approved the construction of 800 housing units in settlements in and near occupied East Jerusalem, and 42 new housing units in the settlement of Kiryat Arba in the southern occupied West Bank.
According to the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ), more than a third of Beit Safafa land has been confiscated by Israel since 1967 to the benefit of the nearby settlements of Gilo, Har Homat, and Givat Hamatos.
The settlements, along with the Israeli separation wall, have effectively cut off Beit Safafa from the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat criticized Netanyahu’s decision to approve further settlement construction — not due to the fact that such policy is illegal under international law.
“As far as construction in Jerusalem is concerned, we have a master plan that properly addresses the needs of both the Jewish community and Muslim population, just as any other city in the world does,” he said.
However, master plans for the city have been shown to push for the “Judaization” of Jerusalem, as one master plan reportedly allocated only 2,300 dunams (2.3 square kilometers) of East Jerusalem for Palestinian construction, compared to 9,500 dunams (9.5 square kilometers) for Israeli Jews, favoring densification of the Palestinian population in the area versus the expansion of Jewish neighborhoods.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) further found in 2009 that only 13 percent of East Jerusalem was zoned by Israeli authorities for Palestinian construction, whereas 35 percent had been expropriated for Israeli settlements.
A June report by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS) revealed that only 25 percent of new apartments built in the city in the past five years were built in East Jerusalem, whereas a 2015 article by Haaretz revealed that only seven percent of building permits in Jerusalem were issued for Palestinian neighborhoods, which represent 40 percent of the city’s population.
Discriminatory policies against Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank has forced many Palestinians to build without permits, at the risk of seeing their homes demolished by Israeli forces.
Meanwhile, Israel advanced plans for 250 percent more settler homes in the first quarter of 2016 than it did in the same period last year, Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said in April.
Most estimates peg the number of Israelis living in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory between 500,000 and 600,000.
Israeli human rights group Peace Now, which monitors settlement building, criticized the move.
“There is no justification for violence, and the recent deadly attacks on Israelis must be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” the group said in a statement.
“But settlement construction in the heart of the future of the Palestinian state is endangering both the possibility for peace and two states and the security of Israeli citizens,” it added.
Israel’s Jerusalem Post newspaper reported Monday that settler leaders from Maale Adumim were not satisfied with the planned new homes, calling for the territory to be completely annexed by Israel in advance of mass settlement construction.
The government has also approved plans for building 600 homes for Palestinians in East Jerusalem — a step which had been opposed by Education Minister Naftali Bennet because the planned homes were on the same site as a proposed Israeli settlement.
According to a poll published last month by the caucus, 78 percent of Israeli citizens are in favor of annexing the settlement, which the caucus believes would just be the first step before annexing the entirety of the Area C, the parts of the West Bank already under full Israeli civil and military control.
“If they do not want us to be here, we need to say we are here and we will be here for eternity and that is the significance of saying MaaleAdumim is Israeli and part of sovereign Israel,” Elkin said.
“New housing units in the settlements will not prevent the next victims but rather strengthen the extremists on both sides,” Peace Now argued in their statement. “The real answer to terror is ending the occupation and reaching a negotiated agreement.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority spokesman Yousif al-Mahmoud condemned the Israeli government’s approval of 800 new settlement housing units, adding that it was part of a recent escalation in Israeli incitement and threats in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Al-Mahmoud called on the international community to urgently take action against Israeli escalations, adding that its silence towards Israeli policies which are illegal under international law encouraged Israel to continue its attacks against Palestinians.