· Jerusalem council wants three new settlements
· Palestinians say move will sabotage two-state aim
Conal Urquhart in Tel Aviv
Friday May 11, 2007
Jerusalem's city council plans to build three new Jewish settlements on land it occupied in 1967, in contravention of international law, it was announced yesterday. The estates will be built on land that has been earmarked for a future Palestinian state, close to Bethlehem and Ramallah.
International law forbids construction on land acquired by war, but since 1967 Israel has built homes for around 500,000 Israelis in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The construction is planned to link existing Jewish settlements in Jerusalem with each other and with settlements in the West Bank. Saeb Erekat, the head of negotiations for the Palestinians, said the building plans suggested that Israel had no real interest in peace. "Today it is obvious that Israel wants Jerusalem for only some of Jerusalem's people," he said. "I wish Israel would do what majorities of both Palestinians and Israelis want: accept the two-state solution and accept peace."
While Israel says that it supports the creation of a Palestinian state, its building projects - which include walls, fences, bypasses and tunnels as well as settlements - restrict the amount of land that would be available to the new state.
In 1967 Israel annexed East Jerusalem, but most of its residents are in limbo, neither residents of Israel, nor of the West Bank. To ensure its hold on East Jerusalem Israel has built a series of settlements which divide the city from its hinterland in the West Bank. The annexation was condemned by the UN and has not been recognised by any major country.
"By severing East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank," Mr Erekat said, "the Jerusalem-area wall and settlements mean no viable Palestinian state, no Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and thus no viable two-state solution."
Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said the government made no distinction between East Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. "There is a difference between Jerusalem, where we have sovereignty, and the West Bank where we do not and whose future will be the subject of future negotiations."
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the new communities would be aimed at housing ultra-orthodox Jews, the fastest growing sector of the Jewish community in Jerusalem. The paper quoted the planning committee as saying that "the committee sees fit to announce its intention to change the district outline plan in order to allow construction in additional areas of the city: Walaja, Givat Alona, the Atarot airport area, and more."
Yehoshua Pollak, the chairman of the committee, told Haaretz that up to 10,000 homes could be built in the area of Walaja, between the south-west of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. "If you strengthen Walaja, you strengthen the connection with the Etzion bloc through the tunnel road," he said. The Etzion block is a group of settlements south of Bethlehem which Israel hopes to keep, although its official position is that their future would be discussed in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The decision of the Jerusalem committee must be accepted by a national planning committee before construction can begin. A spokesman for Jerusalem city council said no final decision on the projects had been made, but there was an urgent need to build 20,000 new homes. "The local committee for housing and construction is considering various proposals for new neighbourhoods, all inside the municipal area of Jerusalem," he said.