Israeli authorities have approved plans for the construction of 800 new housing units for Jews in illegal housing settlements across occupied East Jerusalem.
The scheme includes plans to build 560 new units in Ma’ale Adumim, 140 in Ramot and about 100 in Har Homa and Pisgat Zeev settlements.
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The decision taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday will further raise tensions with Palestinians, who say that settlement expansion is a roadblock to a viable Palestinian state.
Settlements are considered illegal under international law and are a major sticking point for peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.
Netanyahu also approved the building of 600 Palestinian homes in Beit Safafa in southern Jerusalem, which was long delayed owing to Israeli objections.
Khalil Tafakji, the director of the Mapping and Geographic Information Systems at the Department of the Arab Studies Society, says the 800 units are part of a larger scheme in which Israel plans to build 850,000 new houses for its Jewish population by 2020.
“These plans have been in the works for a while now. The Israeli government merely chooses to announce them in comfortable instalments,” Tafakji, from the research centre based in occupied East Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera, adding that 450 settler homes are already under construction in Ramot.
“It takes about a year and a half for the master plan on any settlement to go through the legal process. So, for these new houses, they can start issuing tenders and beginning construction any minute now.”
The proposed homes for Palestinians in Beit Safafa, a neighbourhood that has long been a point of controversy, are part of a project proposed decades ago by the Palestine Development and Investment Limited Company (PADICO), but have not moved forward pending Israel’s permission, according to Tafakji.
The decision to approve the construction of new homes for Palestinians, he says, is merely a “political game Israel is playing to appease the Palestinians”.
Several Israeli settlements, including Gilo and Givat HaMatos, have been built on land confiscated from Beit Safafa, where about 12,000 Palestinians live.
Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel has built more than a dozen Jewish-only neighbourhoods housing about 200,000 Israelis in East Jerusalem, which it annexed after the war.
Anat Ben Nun, the director of Development and External Relations at Peace Now, an Israeli NGO that opposes settlement construction, says the answer to the conflict is not the expansion of settlements.
“New housing units in the settlements will not prevent the next victims but rather strengthen the extremists on both sides,” said Nun.
“The real answer to terror is ending the occupation and reaching a negotiated agreement. Meanwhile, Israeli citizens will continue to pay the price of the extreme right-wing government’s policies.”
Since October last year, the occupied Palestinian territories have witnessed a surge in violence in the form of alleged attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, and mass arrests as part of security crackdown, point-blank shootings and raids by Israeli forces.
At least 200 Palestinians and 32 Israelis have been killed in the past eight months.
Amany Khalifa, a Palestinian activist and organiser at Grassroots Jerusalem, an umbrella NGO that supports Palestinian communities in occupied East Jerusalem, says she does not believe the expansion will change things on the ground as the bulding of new homes for Jews on Palestinian land has become a routine matter.
“Israel’s main ideology is built on colonialism and settlement. They try to show us that they are improving our infrastructure by fixing a light or a road here or there, but in reality they are restricting the capacity for Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents,” said Khalifa.
Since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, rights groups such as B’Tselem have accused Israel of encouraging a Jewish majority and securing its sovereignty over the city.
At present, Palestinians make up about 40 percent of the city’s population.
This has been done through several methods, including the building of the Separation Barrier that has been dubbed “Apartheid Wall”.
“This is Israeli impudence – they do anything they want to without listening to any international criticism,” Khalifa said from Jerusalem.
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