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Israel approves hundreds of new housing units in East Jerusalem

Jan. 22, 2017 1:11 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 23, 2017 12:25 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel's Jerusalem municipality on Sunday approved permits for the construction of at least 566 new illegal Israeli settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem, after the plans were said to be put on hold until after US President Donald Trump was sworn in.

A spokesperson for the municipality told Ma'an that the Local Building and Planning Committee in Jerusalem approved the construction of 671 housing units in a number of areas, after their approval was delayed for several weeks.

The spokesperson said that 324 units were approved in the Ramot settlement, 174 units in the Ramat Shlomo settlement, and 68 units in the Pisgat Zeev settlement.

She meanwhile named a number of new construction permits to be approved in various Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem, including 49 units in Beit Hanina, 14 units in Wadi Joz, 24 units in Umm Lison and Umm Tuba, seven units Jabel al-Mukabbir, four units in Beit Safafa, three units in Sur Baher, and four units in A-Tur.

It remained unclear as of Monday morning whether the newly approved construction in the Palestinian neighborhoods would be for the purpose of Jewish-only settlements, and a representative from the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem - (ARIJ) told Ma'an that their organization was investigating the municipality's approvals. 

Earlier this month, unconfirmed reports emerged that the Jerusalem municipality approved plans to establish a new Jewish settlement in the neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukabbir, on the site of the home of a Palestinian who carried out a deadly truck -- seen as a punitive reaction to the incident.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Sunday as the approvals were announced that "The past eight years have been difficult with pressure from the Obama administration to freeze construction. While the Jerusalem municipality did not freeze construction, pressure from the American government meant that national approval was often not granted, and sometimes the publication of new plans was delayed. 

"I believe that we are entering a new era, in which we will be able to continue to build and develop the city for the benefit of all residents, Jews and Arabs alike," the mayor stated. "This will enable us to the right thing -- to strengthen our sovereignty, to provide housing solutions for young people, and to develop Jerusalem -- Israel's indivisible capital."

“This week, president Donald Trump enters the White House,” Israeli media quoted him as saying Sunday. “Let’s all welcome him together as our friend, thereby conveying a clear message to the world: Jerusalem is Israel’s undivided capital!"

Meanwhile, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Meir Turjeman told AFP news agency that city officials approved the plans which had been previously postponed at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of a UN Security Council resolution in December condemning illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The new settlement housing was scheduled to be approved a few weeks ago, but the municipality decided to wait until the end of US President Barack Obama's administration, as it had been critical of settlement activities, while Trump has been a vocal supporter of illegal settlements.

Additionally, the municipality’s District Zoning Committee is expected to discuss approval of 5,600 more residential units in Gilo, Ramot and Givat Hamatos when it meets on Wednesday, according to AFP.

The current footprint of the three settlements where hundreds of new housing was approved -- Ramot, Pisgat Zeev, and Ramat Shlomo -- encircles the Palestinian neighborhoods of Shufat and Beit Hanina, where Israeli has escalated a vicious demolition campaign.

Meanwhile, a vote on a bill seeking to annex the occupied West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim that was set to be voted on Sunday could be postponed, at the request of Netanyahu following pressure from Trump administration officials, who reportedly told the Israeli prime minister they did not want to be taken off guard by the legislation so shortly after Trump's inauguration.

Later on Sunday, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that on top of the proposed bill to annex Maale Adumim, Israel's third-largest illegal settlement, Israel's Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Yisrael Katz was also expected to present to the Israeli security cabinet a proposal to annex dozens of additional settlements in the Jerusalem area, including Maale Adumim.

Netanyahu is expected to present Israeli policy regarding the new Trump administration in his weekly security cabinet meeting later Sunday.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Trump are reportedly set to meet in early February, when the two could coordinate over a possible shift in Israeli and American policy towards the decades-long illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, which has until now rested on achieving the two-state solution.

According to Haaretz, ultra-right Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett -- who was expected to present the Maale Adumim annexation bill -- has said in recent private conversations that he had received messages from Trump’s advisers that the new US administration is “not bound by the two-state solution paradigm and is waiting to hear from Israel what its policy is on the Palestinian issue.”

Bennett has repeatedly asked Netanyahu to rescind his support for the two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state, which Bennett perceives to be a security threat to the state of Israel.

Despite former US president Barack Obama having routinely condemned Israel’s settlement expansions, US officials failed to take any concrete actions to end settlement building under his administration and instead inadvertently encouraged the enterprise through consistent inaction over Israel’s violation of international law and continued support of the Israeli government through inflated military aid packages.

Human rights groups and international leaders have strongly condemned Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, 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 have repeatedly come forward announcing their support for annexing Area C.

A recent report by human rights group B'Tselem argued that under the guise of a "temporary military occupation," Israel has been "using the land as its own: robbing land, exploiting the area’s natural resources for its own benefit and establishing permanent settlements," estimating that Israel had dispossessed Palestinians from some 200,000 hectares (494,211 acres) of lands in the occupied Palestinian territory over the years.

The movement of Israeli settlers taking over Palestinian land, and further displacing the local Palestinian population has been a "stable" Israeli policy since the takeover of the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1967, B'Tselem said, underscoring that all "Israeli legislative, legal, planning, funding, and defense bodies" have played an active role in the dispossession of Palestinians from their lands.
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