Israeli authorities on Tuesday rejected a plan to build around 800 new settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem, but were expected to approve more constructions elsewhere, triggering the ire of Washington.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now told AFP that authorities were due to endorse a far larger project on Wednesday and issue tenders for hundreds more buildings next week.
The Jerusalem regional planning committee turned down proposals for 813 housing units to be built under a plan known as “Givat HaMatos B” but approved a separate project for construction of homes for residents of the east Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Beit Safafa, the interior ministry said.
“Only one of the two plans discussed was approved, for 700 housing units for the Arabs of Beit Safafa,” spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said in an SMS message to AFP. She did not elaborate.
Some 270,000 Palestinians live in east Jerusalem, the vast majority holding “permanent resident” status with only a handful having taken out Israeli citizenship.
Peace Now spokeswoman Hagit Ofran said that Givat Hamatos B was only one of a slew of settlement projects being debated this week and the far larger Givat Hamatos A plan was expected to be approved by a different committee on Wednesday.
“Tomorrow the local (municipal) committee will approve Givat HaMatos A, which is a major plan for 2,600 homes,” she said.
“That alone will seriously damage the possibility of a two-state solution.”
“Givat Hamatos is not just another settlement. It is a game-changer,” Peace Now said on its website.
She said that the government was expected next week to issue tenders to build “hundreds” of homes in the northern West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron, in Givat Zeev, near Jerusalem and in Efrat, southwest of the West Bank city of Bethlehem.”
“They intend next week to publish the list of several hundreds,” she said.
The United States slammed Israel’s latest settlement spurt.
“We are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in her strongest remarks in recent days on the settlement issue.
“Israel’s leaders continually say that they support a path towards a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday reiterated Israel’s right to increase Jewish presence in all parts of “united” Jerusalem, a euphemism for the city including its eastern sector.
“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel and we will continue to build in it,” he said in remarks relayed by his office. “The unity of Jerusalem is something that expresses broad national consensus.”
Givat Hamatos is in the southern part of Jerusalem, near Bethlehem.
Critics say construction there would effectively sever Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
On Thursday, a commission will hear objections to plans to build around 1,000 new units in the nearby settlement neighbourhood of Gilo.
A plan for 1,100 hotel rooms in Givat HaMatos will be up for consideration on January 7, Peace Now said.
The projects are likely to draw new Palestinian and international criticism of Israel, which does not view construction in the east as settlement building, and describes both halves of the Holy City as the “eternal, undivided” capital of the Jewish state.
Israel captured east Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem for the capital of their future state, and slam Israeli settlement there as a violation of peace treaties and a blow to the concept of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
On Monday Israel gave the green light for the construction of 1,500 homes in the north-east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo, in a move which has already drawn sharp US criticism.