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Israel advances plans to build 3,658 new settler units

By AFP - Dec 20,2012 - Last updated at Dec 20,2012

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israel pushed forward with plans for 3,658 new settler unit on Wednesday, most of them in annexed East Jerusalem, sparking Palestinian fury and UN calls for Israel to cancel its plans.

Israel’s plans for the construction of 2,610 homes in the as yet unbuilt Givat HaMatos district in East Jerusalem was quickly followed by the announcement of tenders for another 1,048 units, most of them in the occupied West Bank.

Wednesday’s developments came two days after the approval of another 1,500 units in East Jerusalem, which prompted Washington to denounce Israel for its “pattern of provocative action”.

Meeting in New York on Wednesday, the United Nations urged Israel to cancel its construction plans, warning that if they were implemented, it could deal “an almost fatal blow” to peace hopes.

Speaking as the Security Council met to discuss the Middle East conflict, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “concerned by heightened settlement activity” and urged Israel “to refrain from continuing on this dangerous path”.

“If implemented, these plans would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution,” UN assistant secretary general for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, told the Security Council.

Feltman also condemned Israel’s move to freeze payments of tax and customs fees that it collects for the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and said it must transfer the monies “without delay”.

Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh warned that Israeli steps to push through new settler homes were pushing the Palestinians to accelerate their plans to approach the International Criminal Court.

“The intensification of settlement activity and all the Israeli actions, from killings to arrests, are pushing us to accelerate our recourse to the International Criminal Court,” he said.

The Palestinians are not signatories to the agreement that established the court, but could seek accession after winning upgraded United Nations membership.

Over the past three weeks, Israel — which is in the middle of an election campaign —has announced several major plans for construction in Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank, triggering a torrent of criticism from the international community.

Over the past three days alone, Israel has moved forward plans for 5,158 new settler homes, more than 80 per cent of them in the Arab eastern sector of the city, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future promised state.

During the morning, a Jerusalem municipal planning committee gave final approval to a proposal for 2,610 homes in Givat HaMatos, which is set to become the city’s first new settlement neighbourhood in 15 years, Israeli monitoring groups said.

Until now, there has been no construction at the site, which is located on the southern flank of East Jerusalem, close to Bethlehem.

The Terrestrial Jerusalem group said the approval was the final stage of a years-long planning process, with construction likely to start “within a matter of weeks or a few months”.

And Peace Now’s Lior Amihai said the plans would be published in the coming days, with tenders expected to be published around two weeks after that.

Building in Givat HaMatos would mark the start of the first new settlement neighbourhood in East Jerusalem since the establishment of Har Homa in 1997, which was set up during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term of office.

On Wednesday afternoon, Israel’s housing ministry published tenders to build another 1,048 settler homes — some of them in Har Homa, although most of them would be in the West Bank settlements of Beitar, Karnei Shomron, Givat Zeev and Efrat, a spokesman said.

The Peace Now settlement watchdog has described Givat HaMatos as “a game changer” which would significantly change any eventual border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

Plans to build Givat HaMatos were first made public in January 2008 under the government of Ehud Olmert but they could not be implemented without passing through a lengthy approvals process.

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