Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Israel announces 6,000 new settler homes in occupied West Bank

Also claims there will be 700 homes for Palestinians ahead of visit by Jared Kushner

Labourers work at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 7, 2019. Reuters
Labourers work at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 7, 2019. Reuters

Israel has given rare approval for Palestinian homes in the part of the occupied West Bank it fully controls while also backing an even larger number of settlement homes. The decision comes before a visit by Jared Kushner, the White House's Middle East envoy and son-in-law of US President Donald Trump.

The plans are for 700 Palestinian homes and 6,000 Israeli settler units but it remains unclear if the approved units are new projects or retrospective approvals. Israel's government has not publicly announced the new approvals but officials confirmed the new units were signed off at a closed-door meeting late on Tuesday.

Saying it rejected any Israeli construction or controls over Palestinian construction in the West Bank, the Palestinian leadership, which has cut all public ties with the Trump administration, dismissed the housing announcement.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, responded to the Israeli decision by saying the Palestinians have the right to build on all territory occupied in 1967, "without needing a permit from anyone."

"We will not give any legitimacy to the construction of any settlement," he added.

The permits would be for construction in what is known as Area C – the roughly 60 per cent of the West Bank where Israel exercises full control and where most Jewish settlements are located. Mr Netanyahu's government has approved the construction of tens of thousands of settler homes there, but permits for Palestinian construction are extremely rare.

The plan for Palestinians, though relatively small and far outweighed by the new settlement homes, could allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to argue he is making efforts in favour of Mr Kushner's long-awaited peace plan.

Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The Palestinians seek these areas as parts of a future state. Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal under international law and an impediment to a two-state solution to the conflict.

According to Israel, about 450,000 settlers and 250,000-290,000 Palestinians live in Area C. A total of about 3 million Palestinians live throughout the West Bank.

Following a previous announcenment on new settler houses in April, the European Union reiterated that all settlement activity was illegal under international law. It eroded the viability of a two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, the EU said.

The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said however the permits for the Palestinians were the first for some time.

"We spend lots of time speaking with the Israelis about improving conditions in the West Bank and Gaza," he told CNN.

Amb Friedman sidestepped questions about whether the Trump administration foresaw a Palestinian state or Israeli annexations of West Bank land.

The Palestinians have decried Amb Friedman's role as America's envoy to Israel as he has previously served as the chairman of a group that funds projects in one of the most hardline settlements in the occupied West Bank. He is viewed in Ramallah as not only pro-Israel but pro-settler, and therefore opposed to any viability of a Palestinian state. Mr Kushner's family has also funded settlements.

Updated: August 1, 2019 01:33 AM

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