x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Palestinian state efforts 'undermined by Israel'

Israel's retroactive legalisation of wildcat outposts, together with its construction push to expand Jewish settlements in sensitive areas, is intentionally undermining the prospect of a Palestinian state. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

Palestinians, together with Israeli and foreign activists, stand near newly-erected tents in an area known as E1 in front of an illegal Israeli settlement, Ma'aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem
Palestinians, together with Israeli and foreign activists, stand near newly-erected tents in an area known as E1 in front of an illegal Israeli settlement, Ma'aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem

RAMALLAH // Israel's retroactive legalisation of wildcat outposts, together with its construction push to expand Jewish settlements in sensitive areas, is intentionally undermining the prospect of a Palestinian state, a watchdog warned yesterday.

A record number of tenders for new construction on settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank - 4,469 - were issued during the past two years by the right-wing government of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli-settlement watchdog Peace Now said in a report published yesterday.

The surge began after the government dropped a partial construction freeze in September 2010.

Since Mr Netanyahu's pro-settler coalition came to power in 2009, construction has started on 6,867 settler units, with more than 38 per cent in isolated settlements deep inside the West Bank, according to the report.

Peace Now called the activity a "clear intention to use settlements to systematically undermine and render impossible a realistic, viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict".

Nour Odeh, a Palestinian Authority (PA) spokeswoman, said the report "vindicates what the Palestinian leadership has been saying all along: what the Israeli government does on the ground undermines a two-state solution".

Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations collapsed in 2010, and Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, has refused to take part in further talks unless Israel halts all settlement activity.

Mrs Odeh called on the international community to take a firmer stance against settlements, warning that it was "becoming increasingly evident that it is not sufficient to merely issue statements of condemnation".

Last month, half a dozen European governments, as well as Australia and Brazil, summoned Israeli ambassadors to protest against Mr Netanyahu's plans to build more than 3,000 housing units in an empty area called E1.

Israel has surrounded East Jerusalem with settlements and many fear that construction in E1, which separates West Bank Palestinians from those living in the city, could thwart a viable Palestinian state.

The E1 plans were widely seen as punishment for the upgrade of the Palestinians to non-member observer state by the United Nations in November.

Israel has occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - areas wanted for a Palestinian state - since the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and has filled them with half a million settlers.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister's office, said Mr Netanyahu had "supported construction in the Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs - areas that will remain part of Israel in any possible final-status peace".

Located on the western side of the separation wall, the settlement blocs house the bulk of West Bank settlers. Israel wants to keep them in the event of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

However, the Peace Now figures reveal that most of the building, 2,622 units, under the Netanyahu government was in "isolated" settlements to the east of the barrier. Several hundred construction tenders also went to "sensitive" settlements, such as Ariel, which splits the West Bank in half.

The report also raised concerns about the government's recognition of 10 of about 100 wildcat settler outposts, which Israel considers illegal and promised to dismantle.

It also cited government statistics showing funding for settlements rose by 38 per cent between 2009 and 2011.

And it said any two-state agreement was made "more difficult" by the planned construction of the 2,610-home Givat Hamatos settlement. It would be the first in East Jerusalem since 1997.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

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