The Israeli government has approved plans to build over 1,000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem. It will expand two existing Israeli settlements on part of the territories seized in 1967.
An official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on the possible political and diplomatic impact. He said on Monday that “The government has decided to advance the planning of more than 1,000 units in Jerusalem – roughly 400 in Har Homa and about 600 in Ramat Shlomo,” as cited by Reuters.
He also said that plans would be “advanced for infrastructure projects in the West Bank that will include roads for the Palestinians.”
However, Palestinians regard the holy city of Jerusalem as a future capital of their state and strongly oppose any Israeli expansion. According to Reuters, in a statement the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that “We strongly condemn the latest Israeli announcement to expand its illegal settlements in and around occupied East Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Palestine.”
“This announcement amounts to evidence of an intent to further commit crimes defined by, and punishable under international law,” he added.
The new plan isn’t welcomed by some Israeli politicians. Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party told Reuters the settlement building “should not be promoted now because there is a crisis with the US and the world.”
“There is never a good time to do such things, now more than ever as Jerusalem is burning,” Lior Amichai of the settlement watchdog Peace Now told AFP. He added that it was unclear at what stage the Israeli plans were, or how close they were to construction.
The international community hasn’t shown any support for Israeli settlement building. Relations with Israel’s traditional ally the US have also become strained over public criticism of US foreign policy by Israeli officials.
Palestine warns about increasing tension
The latest Israeli moves come after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent an “urgent letter” to US President Barack Obama concerning the “dangerous Israeli escalation” in East Jerusalem on Sunday night, reported the Jerusalem Post.
According to a statement released by the president’s office in Ramallah, Abbas warned that a “wider explosion that cannot be controlled,” could be triggered by Israel’s recent measures, including the suggestion to allow Jews to pray at the Temple Mount compound.
The Palestinian President also blamed the Israeli government for the “dangerous escalation”; the recent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian rioters in East Jerusalem this weekend. Hundreds of Palestinians marched in several neighborhoods of the city, throwing stones and firecrackers at Israeli police, and 18 arrests were made, according to Haaretz.
Last week’s clashes marked a new wave of tension that has been running high since June. That’s when three Israeli teenagers were abducted and killed by Palestinian militants in the West Bank, and Israeli extremists responded with the abduction and killing of a Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem. The riots contributed to the 50-day Gaza war that claimed the lives of over 2,000 people, most of them Palestinians.
It is a sidestep by Netanyahu’s office, as the ultranationalist Jewish Home party and its leader Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, has been pressing the Prime Minister to call for 2,000 new building tenders.