x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Israel approves 829 settler homes in West Bank ‘after failing to influence US over Iran’

Israel approves another 829 homes in the occupied West Bank in what commentators describe as 'the only card left to Mr Netanyahu to play in influencing US diplomacy' following Iran's nuclear deal with the West.

JERUSALEM // Israeli authorities have given the go-ahead for the construction of 829 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, settlement watchdog Peace Now said on Monday.

“The construction of 829 homes has been approved by a committee of the Israeli military in charge of the West Bank,” said spokesman Lior Amihai.

“This is yet another move that threatens to derail the peace process,” he said.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has warned that ongoing settlement building by Israel in the Palestinian territories threatens the future of Middle East peace talks, which are at an impasse little more than three months after they began.

A statement from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat condemned what he called “the Israeli government’s constant policy of destroying the two-state solution”.

He said that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was undermining the peacemaking efforts of US secretary of state John Kerry, revealing “that (Netanyahu’s) sole intention is to consolidate an apartheid regime rather than to achieve a just and durable peace”.

The new homes are to be built north of Jerusalem, in the settlements of Givat Zeev, Nofei Prat, Shilo, Givat Salit and Nokdim, Mr Amihai said.

The latest move comes two weeks after Israel announced its largest plan for settler homes ever, saying some 20,000 would be built in the West Bank.

Netanyahu cancelled the order after pressure from the United States, which brought the two sides to the table in July, and as he sought to dissuade Washington from striking a nuclear deal with Iran.

That announcement prompted the entire Palestinian negotiating team to resign in protest – resignations which Mr Abbas has yet to accept.

Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot said that having failed to prevent what he called a “very bad” international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, the only card left to Mr Netanyahu to play in influencing US diplomacy is progress, or the lack of it, in talks with the Palestinians.

“As of now, Israel has no influence on American policy vis-a-vis Iran, with the exception of the threat to derail the talks with the Palestinians,” it wrote.

Mr Abbas said last week the Palestinian side was committed to the full period of talks agreed with Washington that will end in around April.

But if the talks end with no deal, the Palestinians have said they will pursue legal action in the international courts against Israel’s illegal building.

Commentators say the Palestinians will not back out of talks before their end date, as this would signal implicit responsibility for their failure.

* Agence France-Presse