Israeli plan to build 1,100 homes condemned


PALESTINIAN OFFICIALS have condemned yesterday’s decision by Israel to build more than 1,000 new homes in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo, warning that the decision will hinder international efforts to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the decision by Jerusalem’s regional planning committee to add 1,100 units to the southern neighbourhood of Gilo, built on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, amounted to “1,100 Nos to the resumption of peace talks”. The green light for the construction came only four days after the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators – the US, UN, EU and Russia – called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks within a month and set a one-year deadline to clinch a final peace deal.

The Quartet agreed to Israel’s demand that the negotiations should resume without preconditions, but called on the parties “to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to be effective”, in what appeared to be a reference primarily to Israeli settlement activity.

Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad said the Israeli decision was a unilateral step. “The prime minister of Israel [Binyamin Netanyahu] claims that he has no preconditions, but this decision creates preconditions on the ground. Netanyahu said there is no room for unilateral steps – there is no bigger unilateral step than ordering construction in Palestinian land.”

Gilo, divided by a valley from the West Bank town of Beit Jala, is one of the five major neighbourhoods built over the 1967 greenline border that Israel has incorporated into the Jerusalem municipality. Mr Netanyahu refused to include these neighbourhoods in the 10-month settlement freeze that was implemented in November 2009, although Palestinians consider Gilo and other east Jerusalem Jewish neighbourhoods as settlements.

Mr Netanyahu said there was nothing new in the Gilo decision and he did not plan to interfere to block the construction. “We plan in Jerusalem. We build in Jerusalem. Period. The same way Israeli governments have been doing for years – since the end of the 1967 war.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed “deep regret” that Israeli settlement plans were continuing. She said the expansion of settlements threatened “the viability of an agreed two-state solution” and “should be reversed”.