New building permits cast shadow over Middle East peace talks

Jewish settlers have permits to start building thousands of new homes within hours of the end of a 10-month construction freeze in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli watchdog revealed.

The Peace Now organisation said in a report that settlers have the necessary approvals for some 13,000 new homes, and could theoretically start building many of these as soon as the freeze ends in the last week of September.

The disclosure comes as the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, prepare to resume US-mediated peace talks in Egypt today.

The two leaders meet in an atmosphere of mutual distrust, not least over settlements, which are illegal under international law and are built on the territory that the Palestinians want as the basis for their future state. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel prolong the moratorium, first imposed last November to coax the Palestinians into talks, warning that they will otherwise cause the talks to collapse.

Mr Netanyahu, under pressure from his right-wing pro-settler coalition partners to stand firm, ruled out an extension over the weekend, although many believe that the government will impose a tacit freeze, which would limit construction through the permit approval process.

Peace Now said construction can start on 2,066 homes immediately, while settlers hold the necessary permits to start building once the freeze is lifted for a further 11,000 houses. Five thousand of those homes, it added, are located east of the separation fence, the Israeli-built barrier that broadly follows the 1967 border but at times substantially deviates from this into West Bank territory. Nevertheless, the watchdog admitted that many of these houses will likely not go ahead immediately, given insufficient demand or money.

Amid concerns that the talks could fail over the settlement issue before they have properly begun, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned last week that this round of talks are the "last chance".

Her words were an apparent nod to Mr Abbas's political difficulties after his mandate to lead expired last year. Hamas, the Islamist movement in Gaza that passionately rejects the talks, has enjoyed growing popularity in the West Bank in recent months.

Washington hopes to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to a framework agreement within one year, yet the two sides remain deeply divided over even relatively minor issues, such as the Palestinian reluctance to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Even the agenda of the talks is in dispute. The Palestinians want first to discuss borders, while Mr Netanyahu reportedly wants to start with security.

Some commentators in Israel say that the time for a two-state solution is already passing, largely because of the political difficulty in evacuating hundreds of thousands of hardline settlers who believe it is their God-given right to settle the whole of biblical Israel.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Network Support Engineer is r...

Recruitment Genius: Account Director - Tech Startup - Direct Your Own Career Path

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Sales Advisor - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telephone Sales Advisor is re...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker - OTE £20,000

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An office based Appointment Mak...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent