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Peace Now and Israeli gov't go head to head over new settler units

April 15, 2016 2:06 P.M. (Updated: April 26, 2016 5:53 P.M.)
The Israeli settlement of Har Homa, built in East Jerusalem, is seen on September 1, 2014. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli, File)
By: Killian Redden

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now has rejected Israeli government claims that more than 200 settler homes approved this week were already built, saying the approval will go toward new housing units.

The watchdog reported Wednesday that the Israeli government had given the green light to another 267 homes in Israel's Jewish-only settlements, bringing the total number of new units approved this year to 941.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office on Thursday denied the claims, saying in a statement the approval was for "upgrading" homes that were already built.

"Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon have not approved new construction as has been published," the statement said. "Almost all of the permits are for upgrading existing structures."

However, Peace New quickly rejected the government's claims, saying in a press release that aerial photographs taken in recent months "illustrate that this is not the case, and much of the planning is for new housing units."

The watchdog released photographs of the Israeli settlement of Bracha, where 54 new homes were recently approved, saying: "As can be seen in the aerial photo from September, the illegal construction there is in very early stages and could not have been completed by now."

Photos were also provided of the settlement of Nokdim, where 70 homes were recently approved, with aerial photos showing "a maximum of 20 existing mobile homes" on the construction site, according to Peace Now.

An aerial photograph issued by Peace Now shows construction on newly approved homes in Bracha settlement in September, which it says "could not have been completed by now." (Photo credit: Peace Now)

Netanyahu's office acknowledged that a "small proportion" of the permits were for new construction in the Israeli settlement of Ganei Modiin, although the statement seemed to justify this on the grounds the settlement "will be part of Israel in any future agreement."

There are now some 550,000 Israelis living in Jewish-only settlements across the occupied Palestinian territory in contravention of international law.

Over the past year and a half, Israel's government has professed to uphold a "planning freeze" on new construction across the settlements.

However, Peace Now has said the the government approved more than 600 new homes last year and retroactively legalised more than 1,000 units that had already been built without government permits.

The number of homes approved has continued to rise this year, with Peace Now reporting on Tuesday that the first quarter of 2016 had seen 250 percent more approvals than the same period last year.

Peace Now spokesperson Hagit Ofran told Ma'an earlier this year that even with the government slowing down the approval for new homes in Israel's settlements, construction has continued more or less unabated.

Even if there were to be a complete halt to new approvals, she said that previous approvals for as yet unbuilt units could allow for the construction of as many as 10,000 new homes in settlements across the occupied Palestinian territory.

Israeli rights group B'Tselem has said that the settlements' existence "leads to violations of many of the human rights of Palestinians, including the rights to property, equality, an adequate standard of living and freedom of movement."
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