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PLO: Israel consolidating its 'apartheid regime' through expansion of Gilo settlement

July 25, 2016 2:30 P.M. (Updated: July 25, 2016 9:28 P.M.)
Construction work for expansion of Gilo in 2011 (Photo: B'Tselem)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat released a statement Monday condemning Israel’s newly advanced plans to expand the illegal Gilo settlement, saying the move was part of “Israel’s political decision to bury the two-state solution by consolidating its illegal occupation and apartheid regime over the Palestinian people.”

The condemnation was issued following reports that the Jerusalem municipality presented construction plans for 770 new housing units, to be considered part of Israel, despite the site being located beyond the Green Line in occupied Palestinian territory.

“Such a decision further reflects the failure of the international community to stop Israel’s settlement expansion,” Erekat said. “It comes as Israel receives more assurances that no action will be taken against its illegal policies of colonization and annexation of occupied Territory, a war crime under international law.”

The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, also released a statement condemning the new plans, saying that the move raises "legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions."

"Continuing on the current trajectory entrenches a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict that is incompatible with realizing the national aspirations of both peoples," Mladenov said.

The plans confirm that the housing units -- which were first approved by a the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee in 2012 among a total 1,200 units in the area -- are to be constructed in the occupied West Bank just south of Jerusalem, between the existing built up area of Gilo and the Palestinian town of Beit Jala.

In December, a plan to construct 891 residential units south of Gilo was also authorized by the committee to be reviewed, as part of the broader urban building plan.

Erekat highlighted that the advancement of the plans, which revealed the housing units would face Beit Jala landmark the Cremisan monastery, came as Israel also continued its construction of the separation wall in Beit Jala's Cremisan valley.

The wall was previously slated to separate the monastery from the neighboring convent and vineyards, and following international pressure, the Israeli High Court ruled in April 2015 that the government consider alternative routes. However, in July last year the court reversed the decision, ruling that the previous ban referred only to an area of a few hundred meters alongside the monastery, and construction has continued periodically since.

Erekat criticized Israeli settlement construction, particularly in and around occupied East Jerusalem, as part of “Israel’s political decision to bury the two-state solution by consolidating its illegal occupation and apartheid regime over the Palestinian people.”

The secretary general reiterated his previous calls for the international community to “show its real commitment for the two-state solution and take all needed action in order to have Israel fully cease settlement construction in the occupied state of Palestine,” which many see as one of the biggest obstacles to solving the decades long conflict.

The head of the Israeli Jerusalem municipality's local planning and construction committee, Meir Turgeman, reportedly disregarded international condemnations of Israel's illegal settlement activity when presenting the most recent construction plans, saying that despite what happens politically, settlement construction would continue in occupied East Jerusalem and across the West Bank.

According to Erekat, the Palestinian Authority had requested the state of Egypt and various leaders of Arab countries during recent visits to call for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet in order to submit a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council to halt settlement expansion.

“We will continue to exert all efforts to confront the Israeli illegal colonization projects with all possible tools towards ending the occupation and establishing our independent sovereign state on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Erekat concluded.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also released a statement earlier this month condemning Israel’s announcement to increase financial support by 50 million shekels ($12.8 million) to the illegal Kiryat Arba settlement and Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank district of Hebron, saying the move “underscores Israel’s true intentions.”

Hamdallah also slammed Israel’s decision to increase financial support to settlements just under a week after the Israeli government approved the construction of 140 homes in the settlement of Ramot in occupied East Jerusalem and 100 for the Har Homa settlement in southeastern Jerusalem, while also retroactively legalizing a settler outpost.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also approved plans to construct 560 new housing units for Jewish Israelis in the illegal settlement of Maale Adumim, as far-right lawmakers announced their intentions to introduce legislation to annex the settlement to Israel..

Netanyahu fast-tracked government plans to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank following a series of attacks against Israeli settlers in Hebron in recent weeks which led to the death of two Israelis.

Israeli leaders have claimed the expansion of Israeli settlements further into Palestinian territory serves to deter attacks, constituting one of a number of punitive measures imposed on the whole of the Palestinian population in the wake of attacks on Israeli settlers and military personnel.

However, Palestinian leadership and rights groups have reiterated that such measures only serve to exacerbate tensions for Palestinians who have lived under a military occupation for nearly 50 years, while being systematically displaced as Israeli settlements continue to encroach further onto their lands.

While the Israeli government does not make Israeli settler population statistics public, most rights groups agree that some 500,000 to 600,000 settlers reside in Israeli settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- all of which are considered illegal under international law.
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