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Peace Now 'deeply concerned' over possible settlement expansions

May 9, 2017 5:48 P.M. (Updated: May 11, 2017 5:37 P.M.)
The Israeli settlement of Har Homa, built in East Jerusalem, is seen on September 1, 2014. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- After reports emerged last week that the Israeli government was preparing to advance 15,000 new settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem in contravention of international law, settlement watchdog Peace Now said it was “deeply concerned” over the implications of the possible settlement expansion.

According to reports, Israeli authorities aim to expand the illegal Ramat Shlomo by 3,000 housing units, build 2,000 units for the planned Givat Hamatos settlement, and also advance plans to build 10,000 settlement housing units in the occupied Palestinian territory in the Atarot settlement area north of Jerusalem, years after the plan was shelved due to opposition by then-US President Barack Obama.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi had strongly condemned the settlement construction plan, calling it a “deliberate affront to the international community, a flagrant violation of international law, and a direct blow to peace.”

In an analysis of the plans published by Peace Now on Monday, the NGO said it was “deeply concerned regarding the possible development in Givat Hamatos in particular, which is the most immediate,” stressing that Givat Hamatos “will create a territorial barrier of Israeli settlements between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”

The planned area for Givat Hamatos is located between the two established illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo and Har Homa north of Bethlehem in the southern occupied West Bank, and would thus establish a territorial continuity of the three Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

As a result, the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa -- already surrounded from the west and south by Gilo -- would become completely isolated from other Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem as well as Bethlehem.

Givat Hamatos would also become the first new Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem in 20 years, Peace Now highlighted, since Har Homa was built in 1997 when Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected as Israel’s prime minister.

Givat Hamatos plan (Peace Now)

Regarding the planned units for Atarot, Peace Now said the expansion would be “a devastating new development that will hinder the possibility of a two-state solution,” and that the new units would further cut off East Jerusalem from Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank.

Peace Now said it was not familiar that plans were advancing for the units, saying that if the reports were true “it will be the first time that such a plan is exposed to the public and advanced."

Currently Atarot serves as an industrial area and a now defunct airport, considered by Palestinians to be the future airport of a Palestinian state.

Tenders for the 3,000 new units for Ramat Shlomo were published for the neighborhood during a visit by then-US Vice President Joe Biden in 2010, Peace Now said, but the group did not have further information on the potential impact of the plans.

The Israeli government has already pushed the advancement of some 6,000 new illegal settlement housing units on occupied Palestinian land since the beginning of the year, and passed the outpost Regularization law, which has paved the way for the retroactive legalization of dozens of illegal Israeli settler outposts.

The moves come as Israel demolished a record high number of Palestinian homes in 2016.

The increase in Israeli settlement expansion plans in 2017 has been linked to the election of US President Donald Trump, who is widely seen as a stalwart ally of the Israeli government.
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