JERUSALEM — Israel has approved more than 1,300 new housing units in occupied east Jerusalem, settlement watchdog Peace Now said on Monday, in what a spokeswoman described as “a big provocation.”
“The are three new plans which have been published for public review,” Hagit Ofran told AFP, saying that most of the new building will be in the sprawling settlement neighbourhood of Har Homa, which is home to more than 7,000 people.
She said the plans include 983 new housing units in one area of Har Homa, with another 42 to be built elsewhere in the neighbourhood which lies close to Bethlehem.
The plans also detail another 320 units to be built in the northern Ramot neighbourhood, she said.
“This is a new stage in Har Homa which really extends it,” Ofran said. “It is a big provocation.”
Publication of the plans comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the United States for talks focused on ways to revive moribund peace talks with the Palestinians which have hit a deadlock over settlement building.
Talks which began in early September quickly ran aground when an Israeli moratorium on West Bank settlement construction expired six weeks ago, prompting the Palestinians to freeze ties until Israel reimposes the ban.
Israel has so far refused to do so, despite heavy international pressure led by Washington.
Although the plans must now be put to a 60-day public appeals process, Ofran said they were “a very long way” from being implemented.
“Technically, it would be very easy to stop these plans, but what they are doing is promoting them,” she said, saying it was highly unlikely Netanyahu was unaware the plans were to be made public during his US visit.
The interior ministry did not immediately respond to an AFP request to confirm publication of the plans.
Israel does not consider Har Homa to be a settlement because it lies within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, drawn up by Israel after it captured and annexed the mostly-Arab eastern half of the city in 1967.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are facing imminent collapse in the face of a row about settlement building on occupied land, which restarted on September 26 after temporary restrictions on building expired.
Although the 10-month freeze did not cover construction in east Jerusalem, Netanyahu quietly avoided signing off on any such projects in order to avoid the political fallout, commentators said.
Until now, Netanyahu has refused to contemplate a new temporary freeze on West Bank construction, largely because he lacks support for such a move within his right-wing coalition.
Israel seized Arab east Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967 and annexed it shortly afterwards in a move not recognised by the international community or the Palestinians, who consider it the capital of their promised state.
The Palestinians see the settlements as a major threat to the establishment of a viable state, and they view the freezing of settlement activity as a crucial test of Israel’s intentions.