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Israel weighs major Jerusalem settlement plans

By AFP - Dec 18,2012 - Last updated at Dec 18,2012

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israeli planning committees are to weigh several plans for nearly 5,000 new settler housing units in neighbourhoods of occupied East Jerusalem this week, with at least one major project set for final approval.

Non-governmental groups Peace Now and Terrestrial Jerusalem, which track settlement construction, said Jerusalem municipal and district committees will consider four projects this week in the Givat HaMatos and Gilo neighbourhoods.

The projects are up for discussion after Israel on Monday gave the green light for the construction of 1,500 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo, in a move which has already drawn sharp US criticism.

The other settlement plans being weighed this week are all in southern sector of the city, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Critics say construction in these areas would effectively sever Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, the regional planning committee was scheduled to hear objections to two projects in the as-yet-unbuilt Givat HaMatos neighbourhood — Givat HaMatos B, comprising 549 units, and Givat HaMatos C, with 813 units, Terrestrial Jerusalem said.

As the committee met, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s right to increase Jewish presence in all parts of “united” Jerusalem, a euphemism for the city including its eastern sector.

“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the state of Israel and we will continue to build in it,” he said in remarks relayed by his office. “The unity of Jerusalem is something that expresses broad national consensus.”

On Wednesday, another committee is expected to give final approval to the biggest bloc of units in Givat HaMatos.

“On Wednesday, the Jerusalem municipal planning commission will give its final green light to a project for the construction of 2,610 units in Givat HaMatos, with tenders to be published in coming months,” Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran told AFP.

And on Thursday, a commission will hear objections to plans to build around 1,000 new units in the nearby settlement neighbourhood of Gilo near Bethlehem.

A plan for 1,100 hotel rooms in Givat HaMatos will be up for consideration on January 7, the NGOs said.

The projects are likely to spur new Palestinian and international criticism of Israel, which does not view construction in the east as settlement building, and describes both halves of the Holy City as the “eternal, undivided” capital of Israel.

“The building of new homes in Jerusalem is based on old planning and zoning,” Ofir Gendelman, a spokesperson for Netanyahu, wrote on his Twitter feed.

“No country needs or asks permission to build in its own capital.”

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war in a move never recognised by the international community.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of their future state, and slam Israeli settlement there as a violation of peace treaties and a blow to the two-state solution.

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