Israel to build 850 homes in West Bank

 

Israel's plans to build hundreds of new homes in Jewish West Bank settlements have put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at odds again with Washington and the Palestinians, without appeasing settlers furious over the government's plan to dismantle an illegally built enclave.

Engineers, meanwhile, questioned the government's plan to physically uproot the five apartment buildings that make up the Ulpana enclave, saying it would be a colossal waste of money and likely doomed to fail. Netanyahu, an ardent settlement champion, has proposed that plan to avert the spectacle of settlement homes being demolished on his watch. 

Yesterday, officials announced the government would build 850 apartments in various West Bank settlements. This came after parliament, at Netanyahu's urging, voted down a bill that would have legalized Ulpana and other settler outposts built illegally on privately held Palestinian land.

The international community condemns settlement construction, and the Palestinians have refused to talk peace while Israel builds on land they claim for a future state.

Netanyahu found himself in the politically difficult position of having to carry out a Supreme Court ruling ordering the 30 apartments in Ulpana destroyed by 1 July. Knowing proposed legislation to preserve the outpost would not stand up to the court's scrutiny, he pressured coalition lawmakers to vote it down yesterday.

To blunt the blow to settlers, he vowed to build 300 more homes in the authorized settlement of Beit El, on whose outskirts Ulpana lies.

Later, Housing Minister Ariel Attias announced that an additional 551 apartments would be built elsewhere in the West Bank.

"Thirty apartments will be evacuated, but 850 will be built instead," Attias said in a statement. "Under the circumstances, this is a worthy solution."

The Palestinians and Washington disagreed.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat denounced the new construction as a measure "that undermines all efforts to revive the peacemaking between the two sides."

Settlement construction is at the heart of the current impasse in peace talks. Negotiations broke down three years ago, and the Palestinians refuse to restart negotiations until Israel freezes settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

With 500,000 Israelis now living on land claimed by the Palestinians, they say their dream of gaining independence is growing ever more distant. Israel says negotiations must be conducted without preconditions.

In a sharply worded statement, the US accused Israel of hindering peace efforts with the newly announced settlement construction — and appeared to question both sides' declared commitments to peacemaking.

"We're very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts," US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity."

He did not say what, if any, response the US would take. In an election year, President Barack Obama would be unlikely to pick a fight with Israel, which enjoys significant support among Jewish and evangelical Christians.

The UN envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, called the planned new construction "deeply troubling" and "contrary to international law." He urged both Israelis and Palestinians to work for a solution.

"If the parties do not grasp the current opportunity, they should realize the implication is not merely slowing progress toward a two-state solution," he said. "Instead, we could be moving down the path toward a one-state reality, which would also move us further away from regional peace."

Israel would lose its Jewish majority in such a state, which would incorporate the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Settlers, meanwhile, vowed to resist the impending evacuation, though they stopped short of threatening violence.

Ulpana resident Reut Lehrer told Army Radio on Thursday that "there was a lot of anger" there at the government following the parliament vote. "People feel we have been abandoned," she said.

Yesterday evening, shortly after the parliament vote, police used stun guns to disperse a group of about 40 settlers who were throwing rocks at Palestinian cars, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

The violence raised fears of further attacks on Palestinians and their property, a tactic known as "price tag" that extremist Jews use to vent their anger at government action against settlers.

Government officials, meanwhile, were working on Netanyahu's unprecedented promise to physically uproot settler houses and move them intact to a site about one kilometer (half a mile) away. The project would begin after the 150 Ulpana settlers are moved into state-funded mobile homes, pending the relocation of their homes.

Israel David, vice chairman of the Israeli Association of Construction and infrastructure Engineers, estimates the project would cost anywhere from $13 million to $25 million — and in the end fail.

"I don't think it's feasible, because of the topography and the type of construction,' he said of the buildings, which each house six apartments and are located on hilly ground. He said it was possible the structures would crumble while being transferred — just the scenario Netanyahu hopes to avoid.

Asked why he thought the government would undertake a project he professionally views as so quixotic, David replied: "It's a good spin. No one did their homework on this."

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power