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Israel's new settler build cuts off Bethlehem and Jerusalem

Oct. 14, 2011 3:53 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 16, 2011 11:55 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel has formally submitted plans for a new settlement neighborhood of 2,610 homes in annexed East Jerusalem, Peace Now said on Friday.

East Jerusalem's first new district in 14 years, Givat HaMatos, lies within Bethlehem's original municipal borders and will cut off the West Bank city from East Jerusalem, the group said.

Peace Now said building up the neighborhood, standing between Israeli settlements Gilo and Har Homa, was "a game changer that significantly changes the possible border between Israel and Palestine."

"Unlike recent plans that caused controversy in Gilo and Pisgat Zeev which expanded the footprint of existing neighborhoods, the new plan creates an entirely new footprint of a new Israeli neighborhood in East Jerusalem," Peace Now said in a statement.

The establishment of Har Homa in 1997, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was serving his first term as premier, infuriated the Palestinians who said its construction would complete a ring of Jewish settlements around East Jerusalem, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the West Bank.

"The new neighborhood will complete the isolation between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem, and will destroy any possibility of a territorial solution in Beit Safafa and Shurafat," the group said, referring to two Palestinian neighborhoods.

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.

The public now has an eight-week period in which to submit any appeals against the plan to build 2,610 homes, at least two thirds of which -- some 1,700 homes -- will be for Israeli Jews as the remainder is being built on privately-owned Palestinian land, Peace Now's Hagit Ofran explained.

"We're now in a place where they could start construction within two years," she said.

"It is enough to destroy the possibility of a two-state solution if you build 1,700 homes for Israeli Jews there," she said.

"This government is eager to build -- especially in East Jerusalem.

"When there is so much political backing for promoting it fast, they could get this through and start building within the year."

Israel insists that the whole of Jerusalem is the country's "eternal, indivisible capital" and does not consider construction in the east to be settlement building because the land falls within the city's municipal boundaries, which were drawn up after the eastern sector was occupied in 1967.

Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem was never recognized by the international community or the Palestinians, who regard the city as the capital of their promised state.
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