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Peace Now: Tenders opened for 323 housing units in illegal Israeli settlements

July 27, 2016 8:22 P.M. (Updated: July 28, 2016 12:48 P.M.)
A bulldozer is seen next to a new housing construction site in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa in East Jerusalem on March 19, 2014. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli human rights watchdog Peace Now announced in a statement Wednesday that the Israeli government hadopened tenders for 323 housing units in several illegal Israeli settlements, paving the way for the expansion of the Israeli settlements of Gilo, Neve Yaakov, Pisgat Zeev, and Har Homa.

According to Peace now, tenders for 89 units in Gilo have been opened, as well as 36 in Neve Yaakov, 68 in Pisgat Zeev, and 130 in Har Homa. All of the settlements are considered by Israel to be suburbs of Jerusalem, as Israeli authorities have consistently expanded the Jerusalem municipality to include nearby illegal Israeli settlements located in the West Bank.

The housing units were tendered in the past, however the Israeli government had not been able to construct the additional units and was now opening up the areas for construction once again, Peace Now said in the statement.

Peace Now slammed the development, saying that the future construction is part of Israel’s larger policy of manipulating demographics around Jerusalem to ensure a Jewish majority. “On the one hand the government does not allow for Palestinian construction, and on the other hand it promotes massive construction for Israelis,” the group said.

Peace Now also referred to the Middle East Quartet's recent report, in which Israel’s illegal settlement expansion into Palestinian territory was cited as one of the major obstacles to peace in the region, and charged the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of discussing a peace agreement based on a two-state solution under false pretenses with no serious intentions of negotiating a peace deal.

Peace Now’s statement came just a few days after Israel's Jerusalem municipality local planning and construction committee presented construction plans for 770 settlement housing units.

The new units would be considered by Israel as part of its Jerusalem district, and would be built between the illegal Gilo settlement and the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, across from the Cremisan monastery in the Bethlehem district of the occupied West Bank.

Israeli authorities had previously approved 1,200 housing units to be built in the area, and the plans for 770 of them were reportedly presented late last week.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat slammed Israel’s plans to further expand the Gilo settlement, stating that “such a decision further reflects the failure of the international community to stop Israel’s settlement expansion.”

“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,” Erekat added.

The Israeli cabinet also approved new housing in the illegal Kiryat Arba settlement earlier this month and advanced a 50-million shekel ($12.8 million) plan to “strengthen” the settlement in a punitive decision following the killing of a 13-year old Israeli girl residing in the settlement.

Peace Now at the time condemned the move in a statement, saying that the investment in Kiryat Arba was part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to “prioritize the most extreme settlements.”

The Israeli government also 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.

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also approved additional 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.

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 in the occupied territory 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 estimate 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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