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Construction of thousands of new settler homes announced right after prisoner release

By Samuela Galea

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November 5, 2013

Just after the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners early Wednesday morning, 30 October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced the establishment of 1,500 new settler homes to be built on expropriated Palestinian property in Ramat Shlomo, East Jerusalem.

Just a couple of days later, the total amount of homes to be built now adds up to 5,000 new units.

Last week’s prisoner release is the 2nd part of a 4 stage deal secured last July aimed at releasing a total of 104 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the PLO’s return to peace negotiations – the events following have proved to be an almost exact recurance of last August, when Israel announced the construction of 2,000 new settler homes just after releasing the first group of 26 prisoners.

Israeli officials claim the recent consctruction announcements are a result of '’understandings’’ reached between all concerned parties, including the United States (US). Yet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas completely denied that the prisoners’ release was part of any such agreement. Still, it is evident that Israel has used this as a means of avoiding to meet Palestinian demands of freezing settlement activity in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Since the renewal of the '’peace process’’ earlier this year, thousands of new settler homes have been constructed, various settlements within Jerusalem and the West Bank have expanded, increasing the number of settlers, enhancing Jewish presence and all the while blocking any possibilities of enlarging Palestinian villages. 

According to Americans for Peace Now, during the first half of this year before negotiations resumed in July, settlement construction was 70% higher than it had been during the same period last year, 86% of which was initiated without tenders.

A total of  995 settler units were built in 2012. In comparison, this year construction has begun on 1,708 units, 180 of which fall within Isreali settlement outposts  (illegal even under Israeli law) whilst a further 1,794 housing units have been completed. The construction freeze that took place earlier this year was upheld just until the first group of prisoners were released this summer. 

Israel’s announcement of its plan to move ahead with another 5,000 settler units was justified by President Netanyahu as a measure of "compensation" aimed at appeasing right wing unrest over the second phase the mutually agreed upon prisoner release last week. Endeavoring to make ammends with right wing voters, Netanyahu emphasized that construction would "move forward immediately."

New houses will be added to the already existing major settlement blocs of Ariel, Betar 'Illit, Givat Ze’ev and Karnei Shomron in addition  to isolated settlements, such as Talmon, Shiloh and Almog. 

Mount Scopus Slopes National Park will be established in the land between the Palestinian villages of Isawiyah and A-Tur, further reducing their land. 

A tourist and archaeological centre is to be opened in the Palestinian village of Silwan, whilst the building plan of 1,500 units in Ramat Shlomo as mentioned above, will finally be initiated after having originally been announced back in 2010 during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel—a move that consequently suspended the plan due to the severe harm it caused to US-Israeli relations.

Current residents in Ramat Shlomo will also be allowed the option to expand each of their homes by an additional 50 squared-metres, with again the idea of allowing more Jewish settlers to move in.

Furthermore, as though adding insult to injury, all these controversial settlement projects have been accompanied by an increase in demolitions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem by the Israeli authority. One such case being that of a 3 story building  belonging to family Shweiki demolished in Beit Hanina last week.

Despite criticism from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon regarding Israel’s settlement sexpansion, Israeli Knesset member, Ofir Akunis (Likud), confirmed last week at the Knesset plenum on Wednesday that '’The building in Judea and Samaria will continue to be intensified.’’ 

US State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki expressed that such actions by the Israeli authority would damage any form of peace negotiations with Palestine, reported Haaretz. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is in turn outraged by these new construction announcements,  clearly stating that they will '’only lead to more tension,’’ and will greatly harm peace efforts. According to Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Abbas, Israel clearly '’continues to put obstacles in the way of peace.’’ 

While hosting an official reception for the recently freed prisoners last week, PA President Mahmoud Abbas promised not to sign any agreement with Israel until all Palestinian prisoners were released – around 5,000 Palestinians including women and chilren are still currently being held in Israeli prisons. '’There will not be an agreement with Israel even if one prisoner remains behind bars,’’ he said. 

The more Palestinian land is taken  for Israeli settlements, the higher the number of Palestinian refugees. Whereas more Jewish settlers would mean a larger number of Jewish refugees if the negotiations managed to actually remove illegal settlements, as had happened in Gaza in 2004- thus always making the situation on ground level worse.

Such are the ongoing events, a combination of momentary joy and deeply-set anger over long lasting damage. Winning one small battle - only to have it become the reason for further attack... Where does loss end and victory begin? The '’peace process’’ might look good in official reports, however its reality is far from peaceful and far from the provision of justice. Instead, it seems to deepen wounds and cover up a more intricate conflict, all the while making it more complicated to solve.



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