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Israel Approves 454 New Jewish Settler Homes in Occupied East Jerusalem

Ramat Shlomo (Photo: Wikipedia)

Ramat Shlomo (Photo: Wikipedia)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday the approval of the marketing of land for the construction of 454 new Jewish settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Post reports the homes will be built in the contested Ramat Shlomo and Ramot settlements, which are illegal under international law but considered neighborhoods of Jerusalem by Israel.

Al Jazeera reports the Palestinian Authority released a statement condemning the latest Israeli settlement expansion, calling it a “flagrant violation of international law” aimed at preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said he would take the matter to the International Criminal Court (ICC).”

“We don’t only condemn settlement building which is illegal and carried out by the Israeli occupation authority through systematic settlement building, we also submit complaints to the parties concerned,” said Maliki. “Now we have added a new aspect to the parties we deal with, which is the International Criminal Court.”

The United States also strongly criticized Netanyahu’s decision.

“We view this kind of activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington, DC following news of the expansion. “We remain deeply concerned about Israel’s current policy on settlements, including construction, planning and retroactive legalizations, and we remain unequivocally opposed to these kinds of unilateral steps that, frankly, seek to prejudge the outcome of any negotiations.”

Some Israeli critics of the expansion accused Netanyahu of making his move while the world is distracted by the Paris terror attacks.

“As always, [Netanyahu] uses cynicism… to pass the housing units under the radar,” Israeli lawmaker Omer Bar-Lev of the progressive Zionist Union said in a statement. “Why thaw the construction in Ramat Shlomo? Because all the world powers are too busy with the murderous attacks in France to pay attention and denounce the move.”

The construction of 436 of the housing units on land conquered by Israel in 1967 and illegally occupied ever since was first approved in 2010. But the United States strongly objected to settlement expansion, arguing that such actions imperil the tenuous Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the project was placed on hold for three years. Netanyahu’s approval will allow 436 new settler homes in Ramat Shlomo and another 18 in Ramot, another settlement considered illegal under international law.

Jerusalem City Council Yair Gabai predicted in 2012 that the new settlement homes would “add to the prosperity of Jerusalem, help curb emigration from the capital, and strengthen Israeli sovereignty in all parts of the city.”

But many Palestinians interpret the last part of Gabai’s statement as indicative of renewed Israeli theft of Palestinian territory, and Israel critics including former United Nations human rights monitor Richard Falk, an American Jew, have said that settlements—which were often established through the expulsion of the indigenous Arab population and confiscation of their lands—are a form of ethnic cleansing. Other prominent international observers, including the Nobel peace laureates Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, accuse Israel of practicing apartheid policies.

However, many Israelis believe that ‘God’ promised them, as ‘His’ chosen people,’ all of Palestine, which was the site of ancient Jewish kingdoms. But from biblical times until the early 20th century, Jews never numbered more than 10 percent of the population of the territory that would become the modern Jewish state of Israel.

Around 200,000 Jewish settler colonists currently live in East Jerusalem alongside 370,000 Palestinians. East Jerusalem was captured by Israeli forces during the 1967 Six Day War and has been illegally occupied, along with the West Bank and Syrian Golan Heights, ever since. The Gaza Strip was also conquered and occupied until 2005, when Israel withdrew, although Israel continues to largely control Gaza’s economy and sometimes conducts invasions and other military operations in a bid to stop Hamas militants from firing rockets into Israeli territory.

According to the United Nations, Jewish colonists have established around 150 official settlements in the occupied territories since 1967. An additional 100 or so settler outposts have also been built without official permission. In 1972, there were around 10,000 Israelis living in settlements. By 2008, that number had increased to more than half a million, with thousands of Jews settling on Palestinian land each year.

The UN has passed numerous resolutions condemning Israeli settlement activity, but the United States, Israel’s closest ally and main benefactor, has used its Security Council veto power to thwart the will of the international body. The European Union, which also enjoys close ties with Israel, has considered imposing sanctions against the Jewish state for its illegal settlement activities, although the most robust EU measure taken so far is a labeling requirement for goods made in settlements.

The announcement of the new settler homes in Ramat Shlomo and Ramot comes amid intense and escalating violence committed by both Israelis and Palestinians. Tensions have been rising since early October, largely over increasing visits by Jews to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, also known as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam and Judaism. A wave of Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks and Israeli countermeasures have left at least 78 Palestinians and 14 Israelis dead.

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