Israel’s housing minister announced Sunday that 1,187 new housing units have been approved to be built in east Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank), a decision that’s being slammed by Palestinian officials and welcomed by pro-settlement Israeli politicians.
Of the approved units, 793 are to be built in Jerusalem, the city Israel considers to be its indivisible capital and which the Palestinians want to see as their capital of a future independent state.
“No country in the world takes orders from other countries where it can build and where it can’t,” Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel said in his statement quoted by The Times of Israel. “We will continue to market the homes, and to build in the entire country… This is the right thing at the present time, for Zionism and for the economy.”
Palestinians are decrying the move, announced three days before peace talks sponsored by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are set to resume.
Last month, Israel announced it was releasing 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners, many of them serving multiple life sentences after being convicted of the murder of Israelis. The construction announcement is widely being viewed in Israel as a tradeoff for the prisoner release which was controversial domestically, because it was interpreted as a Palestinian condition for merely restarting long-dormant peace talks.
According to the Israeli newspaper Maariv, Israel quietly informed the Obama administration of its intention to go ahead with the housing plan in order to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition from collapsing after the prisoner release.
Reactions fell along party lines, with Palestinians and left-wing Israeli politicians condemning the housing decision and right-wing Israeli politicians welcoming it.
The Palestinian Authority
PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi in an interview with the BBC called the housing plan “an extremely dangerous policy,” saying, "We believe that Israel is deliberately sending a message to the U.S., to the rest of the world that regardless of any attempt at launching negotiations, 'we are going to press ahead with stealing more land, building more settlements and destroying the two-state-solution.'"
Palestinian peace negotiator Mohammad Shtayyeh says that the housing plan is proof that Israel "was not serious in the negotiations."
In a statement reported by the Maan News Agency, Shtayyeh said Israel "aims through this condensed settlement activity to destroy the basis of the solution called for by the international community, which aims to establish a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders."
He called on Washington as the sponsor of the talks to take "a firm and clear position to rein in this Israeli attack on the West Bank and especially Jerusalem."
Left-Wing Israeli Politicians
The head of the opposition, Member of Knesset Shelly Yachimovitch (Labor) called the announcement a “poke in the eye” of Americans, Europeans, Palestinians, and peace-seeking Israelis.
“Although there is no practical meaning to the announcement,” she said, “it torpedoes the budding international recognition and support we have enjoyed because of the initiation of the talks.”
Member of Knesset Zahava Gal-on of the left-wing party Meretz called the plan “an IED placed by the government in order to assassinate the political negotiations.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid is calling the decision "a double mistake."
"Announcing the decision to market 1,200 housing units in east Jerusalem and in the larger settlement blocs at this time is a double mistake," Lapid said in a statement.
"Solutions for the problem of housing should be founded in the areas of need," he wrote.
"Additionally, the use of resources meant to provide housing for the middle class to needlessly defy the Americans will impede the peace process."
Right-Wing Israeli Politicians
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett whose Jewish Home Party platform supports the settlement enterprise wrote on his Facebook page according to Israel National News:
[Palestinian negotiator Saeb] Erekat said just now that we may not build in our capital, in Jerusalem.
The question is not 'why are we building in Jerusalem now.'
The question is, why didn't we build until now.
In the Jewish Home, we will keep fighting for construction in our land.
Member of Knesset Ofir Akunis said, "Construction in all parts of the Land of Israel is by virtue of our natural and historic rights. The automatic attack from the left [is] pure hypocrisy. It's interesting that no one on the left protested vehemently when [Palestinian Authority Chairman] Mahmoud Abbas spoke of a Palestinian state from Rosh Hanikra to Eilat."
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat welcomed the announcement.
“New building in Jerusalem is crucial for developing and strengthening the city and for allowing young residents to live and acquire an apartment there,” he said via Facebook. “I am pleased that Israel’s government sees eye-to-eye with us on this important need. We must continue to intensify building more and more housing units in all parts of the city and for all sectors, alongside continued economic, cultural, and educational development of Jerusalem.”