Israel approved “an unprecedented” number of 13,851 new settler homes during nine-months of peace talks with Palestine, an Israeli NGO revealed. Israel also declared a record amount of territories its state land, meaning more settlements may follow.
Israeli settlement watchdog, Peace Now, which issued its report on Tuesday, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “broke all construction records in the settlements” in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“This is an unprecedented number representing an average of 50 housing units per day or 1,540 per month,” the left-wing NGO said.
The plans were all in West Bank areas, with 4,793 units approved for the construction in “isolated” settlements and 1,768 units closer to the Green Line, which separates Israeli territory and the occupied West Bank.
Citing figures from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, Peace Now pointed out that construction doubled in the past year: in the second half of 2013 some 828 new units were started in the settlements, while at the equivalent time in 2012, only 484 units were started.
Peace now stresses that the number of tenders granted in the last year was four times bigger than in the past.
The paper comes on the same day as US-brokered peace talks between Israel and Palestine formally ended.
On April 28, the Daily Beast made public a comment by US Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he criticized the Israeli government’s settlements policy, saying it halted the peace talks between Israel and Palestine.
“There is a fundamental confrontation and it is over settlements – 14,000 new settlement units announced since we began negotiations. It’s very difficult for any leader to deal under that cloud,” Kerry said, according to The Daily Beast that claimed it obtained a recording of his comments.
A complete freeze on settlement construction was one of the Palestinians’ fundamental conditions for resuming talks. However, Benjamin Netanyahu refused to accept the fact that settlement building was counterproductive to peace efforts.
In one of his recent TV interviews, Netanyahu blamed failed talks on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Record amount of land reclaimed, more settlements to come
In the meantime, Israel keeps moving towards broader construction of settler homes in the West Bank.
Last year alone, Israel reexamined and confirmed a record amount of West Bank territories as its state land, Haaretz reported. According to the Israeli government coordinator in the territories, 6,919 acres (or 28,000 dunams) were approved by the Civil Administration’s task force for demarcating state land.
Over 5, 400 acres are within settlement boundaries and could potentially become sites of planned construction. Nearly 915 acres are on land that has already been developed, meaning that their confirmation as state land is meant to retroactively legitimize the construction, the newspaper clarified.
“This can be seen both in terms of the size of the land and the location of the places where the mapping was done. The approach guiding the Civil Administration is that all of Area C [the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control] is designated for the expansion of Israeli settlements, as has indeed been happening in the field over the past 20 years,” Haaretz cited Dror Etkes, who works with Rabbis for Human Rights to track Israeli settlement policy.
Most of the newly confirmed state land of which the largest plot is the West Bank settlement of Ariel is in areas of strategic importance for settlers. It includes outposts that could join up with nearby settlements and areas near the Green Line that could potentially be linked up with towns in Israel.
In the 1980s Israel declared nearly 247,105 acres of Palestinian land to be state land after the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to seize land for the stated military purposes and build settlements on that land.
Almost all the land was allocated to settlements, but not all the land designations were correct, and as a result each land claim is being reexamined by the Civil Administration’s task force.