Israel green lights new settler homes
ISRAEL: Israel has given final approval for 90 new homes in Beit El
settlement near Ramallah in a move likely to spark tension ahead of a
top-level visit by US President Barack Obama, officials and an NGO said
Hagit Ofran of the Peace Now settlement watchdog said the plans had
been published for validation in an Israeli newspaper in what was the
"final stage of approval", meaning construction of the new homes could
begin "within a few days."
The plans were signed off by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in
August but received the final rubber stamp on Sunday by the Civil
Administration's planning committee, she said.
The move comes just days after the White House announced that Obama
would make his first-ever visit to Israel as president on a trip
expected to take place in late March.
The stalled peace process is one of three key issues which will be up
for discussion. Talks broke down more than two years ago in a major
dispute over settlements. The Beit El construction plans were hurriedly
put together as a compensatory measure for settlers who were evicted
last year from Ulpana, an unauthorised settlement outpost on the
outskirts of Beit El which was evacuated following a High Court ruling.
A Civil Administration spokesman confirmed the approval for the 90
units, saying they had been signed off by the political establishment.
"We're talking about the validation of a project which was already
approved in August ... in the framework of orders from the political
establishment after the High Court decision," he told AFP.
Ofran said it meant the bulldozers could now get to work immediately.
"They can start building within a few days," she said. The approval
was pushed through despite the fact that Israel is currently between
governments following last month's general elections, with coalition
talks likely to continue for several more weeks.
"Even though there is not yet a new government in place they are
still allowing settlement procedures to continue instead of putting them
on hold which is a telling sign about this new government," Ofran said.
On Sunday, the defence ministry confirmed it had given the green
light for the construction of 346 new settler homes in two settlements
in the southern West Bank: 200 housing units in Tekoa and 146 in Nokdim.
The international community views all Israeli construction on
occupied Palestinian land as a violation of international law, and the
Palestinians have refused to return to peace talks while Israel builds
on land they want for a future state.