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Israel reportedly freezes construction on 6,000 illegal settlement units

June 19, 2017 7:32 P.M. (Updated: June 19, 2017 8:28 P.M.)
The Israeli settlement of Har Homa is seen on September 1, 2014. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli government has reportedly ordered a “de facto construction freeze” on 6,000 illegal settlement housing units in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, according The Jerusalem Post.

The report came as the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) released data showing a 70 percent rise in construction of settlements during the past year, compared to previous year, with settlement watch dog Peace Now warning of increasing numbers in the coming months.

Quoting a report from the Israeli Army Radio on Monday morning, The Jerusalem Post said 2,200 settlement units were expected to be halted in the Gilo and Pisgat Zeev settlements -- located in the Jerusalem district of the West Bank -- and Har Homa settlement in the southern West Bank district of Bethlehem.

A spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister’s office was not immediately available to comment on the reports.

Earlier this year, Israeli officials revived plans that had previously been frozen to build 10,000 settlement housing units north of Jerusalem in the occupied Palestinian territory, years after the plan was shelved due to opposition by then-US President Barack Obama.

Shortly afterwards, Israel’s Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to construct 25,000 settlement units, 15,000 of which were to be built in occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel illegally annexed following the Six-Day war in 1967.

Following the announcement, settlement watchdog Peace Now said it was “deeply concerned” over the implications of possible settlement expansion, highlighting that plans to expand the Givat Hamatos settlement, located between Gilo and Har Homa, would “create a territorial barrier of Israeli settlements between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”

On Monday, as reports emerged of the de facto construction freeze, Peace Now released a statement summarizing a report from ICBS, noting that the report indicated that between April 2016 and March 2017 “there has been a stark increase of 70 percent in construction starts in the settlements, compared to the parallel period the year before.”

According to ICBS’ date, during said time period, the construction of 2,758 housing units began in illegal settlements, compared to 1,619 construction starts between April 2015 and end of March 2016.

Peace Now noted that the data shows that in the first three months of 2017, there were 344 construction starts on illegal settlement housing units, adding that the number was expected to grow in coming months.

"Instead of working to solve the Israeli housing crisis,” -- referring to soaring real estate prices in Tel Aviv -- “the government prioritizes a radical minority living beyond the boundaries of the state,” Peace Now said in response to the ICBS report.

“The highest price to be paid for the sharp increase in construction starts beyond the Green Line is a political price, as such construction continues to distance us from the only way to end the Israeli Palestinian conflict -- a two-state solution."

Earlier this month, an Israeli minister presented a plan to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, advocating for 67,000 additional illegal settlement housing units to be built in the West Bank to deal with Israel’s housing crisis.

Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis live in settlements across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in violation of international law.

The estimated 196 government recognized Israeli settlements scattered across the Palestinian territory are all considered illegal under international law. Meanwhile, although Israeli settler outposts -- unapproved by the Israeli government -- are even considered illegal under Israeli law, earlier this year, Israel passed the outpost Regularization law, which would pave the way for the retroactive legalization of dozens of Israeli settler outposts.
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