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Peace Now: Israel advances plans for 463 housing units in West Bank settlements

Aug. 31, 2016 9:12 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 3, 2016 5:02 P.M.)
A bulldozer is seen next to a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa on March 19, 2014. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel’s Civil Administration approved the advancement of plans for 463 new housing units in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, Israeli NGO Peace Now reported.

According to Peace Now, the Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee validated plans for 20 housing units in the settlement of Givat Zeev, 30 in Bet Arye, while 179 housing units were retroactively approved in Ofarim. The group added that plans for 234 units in the settlement of Elqana were being discussed for depositing.

According to Peace Now, Israel has promoted plans for 2,623 new units in West Bank settlements since the beginning of the year, 756 of which were retroactively legalized construction.

“The (Benjamin) Netanyahu government continues to plan and build all over the West Bank, while also giving settlers the message that any construction done without planning will be retroactively legalized,” Peace Now said in a statement.

“Not only that the Netanyahu government does not believe in a two states solution, it is actively trying to kill it by building more and more in the settlements. This policy contradicts the very essential interests of the state of Israel," the group added.

Peace Now’s announcement came as Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah demanded during a meeting with the United States Consul General to Jerusalem Donald Blome on Wednesday that the US take more serious action to stop Israeli settlement activity.

On Tuesday, the office of the Israeli prime minister slammed remarks made by the UN envoy to the Middle East which criticized Israel for its continuous settlement expansion, saying the envoy was “distorting history and international law.”

At a UN Security Council briefing the day prior, Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, condemned Israel, saying: “How will advancing the construction of over 1,700 housing units bring the parties closer to negotiated peace, how will it uphold the two-state solution, how will it create hope for the Palestinian people, or how will it bring security to Israelis?”

The Israeli Prime Minister's office said in response to Mladenov’s statement that, “The claim that Jewish construction in Jerusalem is illegal is as absurd as the claim that American construction in Washington or French construction in Paris is illegal,” despite the fact that each of the 196 Israeli government-approved settlements scattered across the Palestinian territory were constructed in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention -- which forbids the transfer of civilians from an occupying power into areas it occupies.

The statement further claimed that Palestinian opposition to settlements amounted to a demand “that a future Palestinian state be ethnically cleansed of Jews.”

The statement did not address the mass displacement of Palestinians prior to and following the establishment of the state of Israel which some historians and rights groups have called "ethnic cleansing," in addition to ongoing Israeli policies of home demolitions and state violence.

Israel has come under harsh criticism for a spike in illegal settlement activity in recent months, with plans for thousands of housing units moving forward in various stages in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Human rights groups and international leaders have strongly condemned Israel’s settlement construction, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state by changing the facts on the ground, while members of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, have publicly announced their support for plans aimed to annex the entirety of Area C.

While members of the international community rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted farther to the right as many Knesset members have called for an escalation of settlement building in the occupied West Bank, and with some having advocated for its complete annexation.

A number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
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