Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday approved new construction in West Bank settlements. The move came hours after he blocked the passage of legislation designed to save unauthorised settler homes from demolition. The bill, which attempted to evade a High Court ruling ordering the eviction of five homes in Beit El’s Ulpana Hill neighbourhood, was voted down 69 to 22.
Following the vote on the settlement regulation bill, Netanyahu and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) gave the green light to 851 new housing units in the West Bank – 300 for Beit El and 551 for four other settlements. Most of the new construction will be build in settlement blocs near the Green Line and in neighbourhoods surrounding Jerusalem.
The move immediately generated controversy within Israel’s ruling coalition, with Kadima Party chairman Shaul Mofaz protesting the construction in Kiryat Arba, which is outside the large settlement blocs.
Within hours after of its announcement, the US criticised the decision. “Continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations including the 2003 road map,” State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said. The move also drew criticism from the Palestinian Authority, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh saying the decision was “sabotaging peace efforts.”
News of the planned settlements followed a long, impassioned day in which MKs rejected a bill to legalise unauthorised settlement construction in the West Bank. The vote was a setback for the settlement movement and the political Right, which lobbied on this issue for months.