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Claims of Israeli settlement freeze an 'attempt to fool the public'

June 26, 2017 11:26 A.M. (Updated: June 26, 2017 4:51 P.M.)
Israeli authorities break ground in Amichai settlement on June 21, 2017 (Source: The Israeli prime minister's official Twitter page)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- After reports emerged Friday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the United States government to stop marketing new settlement units for the rest of 2017, a representative from settlement watchdog Peace Now called the alleged promise “another spin of the Netanyahu government trying to fool the public.”

Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post had reported that the alleged freeze was discovered when settlers from the illegal Beit El settlement in the central occupied West Bank discovered that plans for 300 new settler homes -- promised to the settlers by Netanyahu in exchange for a peaceful evacuation of the illegal Ulpana outpost -- were halted.

Netanyahu then reportedly met with the settlement's regional council head Shai Alon and ensured him that the homes promised to the settlers would be excluded from the temporary settlement freeze, adding that the 300 settler homes would be advanced in September.

In response to the reports, Hagit Ofran, the spokesperson for the settlement watch team of the Israeli NGO Peace Now, told Ma’an that “The alleged promise by Netanyahu, if it truly happened, is another spin of the Netanyahu government trying to fool the public.”

Pointing to information gathered by Peace Now from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS), Ofran highlighted that this year, the Israeli government had already issued tenders for the construction of 2,858 settlement units in the West Bank.

The numbers marked an “unprecedented number of units” -- at least since 2002, which is the earliest data available, Ofran wrote. “So they have enough construction to do for the whole year.”

The spokesperson further noted that “Only 13 settlements need publication of tenders before the construction. All the other settlements can start the construction as soon as the plan is approved. The government had already approved the promotion of plans for at least 4,909 units this year.”

As a result, “The Government can easily promise to stop all tenders knowing that it will not stop any construction,” she said.

Ofran also noted unconfirmed reports that the Israeli government was excluding the tender for 300 units in Beit El that might be issued in the near future.

Among the thousands of new settler units to be advanced in recent weeks were 102 units for the Amichai settlement, the first new Israeli settlement established in more than two decades. Israeli authorities broke ground on Amichai last week.

Peace Now also recently reported 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.”

"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 statistics.

Since the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967, between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis have moved into Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, 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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