Israel plans settlements despite EU’s tougher line

Construction plans for West Bank going ahead as John Kerry tries to broker new talks

US secretary of state John Kerry with Jordan’s foreign minister Nasser Judeh in Amman yesterday. Mr Kerry sounded optimistic that a breakthrough in the stalled peace process was close. Photograph:  Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

US secretary of state John Kerry with Jordan’s foreign minister Nasser Judeh in Amman yesterday. Mr Kerry sounded optimistic that a breakthrough in the stalled peace process was close. Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Thu, Jul 18, 2013, 12:37


Israel is pushing ahead with West Bank settlement construction plans despite the fact US secretary of state John Kerry is in the region in an effort to finalise a formula to get Israel and the Palestinians around the negotiating table.

An Israeli planning committee yesterday approved the construction of 741 West Bank homes for Jewish settlers, most in the ultra-Orthodox community of Modi’in Elit.

The move came a day after the decision by the European Union banning European funding for Israeli enterprises in occupied territory.

It remains to be seen if the new settlement plans, which require the approval of defence minister Moshe Ya’alon, will affect Mr Kerry’s efforts to break the diplomatic deadlock. After two meetings in the Jordanian capital Amman with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Mr Kerry sounded optimistic that a breakthrough was close.

“We have been able to narrow these gaps very significantly. And so we continue to get closer and I continue to remain hopeful that the sides can soon be able to come and sit at the same table.”


US package
Mr Abbas was due to convene senior officials today to brief them on the American package to renew the talks, which broke down in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement building.

Israel warned that the EU decree excluding all Israeli bodies operating in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights from agreements signed with Israel will encourage Palestinian intransigence. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday talked by phone to a number of European leaders in an effort to persuade them to delay implementation of the decree, which is due to go into effect tomorrow.

However, Israeli officials conceded the chances were slim of changing the European decision.


Cost
Israeli economists estimated that the new decree could cost Israel hundreds of millions of euro and there was a danger that the same policy will be adopted by individual EU member states.

An Israeli official accused the EU of taking a unilateral, pro-Palestinian position, meaning Europe could no longer be considered an honest broker with a role to play in peace efforts.

Some right-wing Knesset members advocated an aggressive Israeli response, such as blocking EU-funded development projects for Palestinians or restricting the movement of European diplomats in the West Bank. They also proposed cancelling all planned gestures to the Palestinians, such as a prisoner release.

Justice minister Tzipi Livni termed the EU move a “resounding wake-up call” for Israel. “It is regrettable that we’ve reached this situation, but I hope that now all those who thought that it was possible to continue the impasse and who said that our situation has never been better, will realise that we must act and begin negotiations.”

A Palestinian source said the next stage was to ensure the EU enforces its directives and creates obstacles to the settlement enterprise.