Israel settlement plan revealed to target strategic Palestinian land
An Israeli anti-settlement watchdog has revealed that Israel secretly plans to build more than 8,000 settler homes in a strategic section of the West Bank near Jerusalem.
Peace Now said the homes were among more than 55,000 settler homes on Palestinian land at various stages of planning by Israel's Housing Ministry.
It said it had obtained the data after a two-year legal battle in response to a freedom of information request.
In a report, the group said the 8,372 settler homes are envisioned for the strategic area known as E1.
The Palestinians strongly object to settlement of the occupied area, saying it would separate a future Palestinian state in the West Bank from east Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital.
It would also drive a wedge between the northern and southern flanks of the West Bank.
"For these reasons, whenever an Israeli leader tries to promote the plans in E1, the international community strongly condemns them," the report said.
The plans are in the earliest stages, and no actual construction has been approved. In 2013, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu froze E1 development plans following heavy international criticism.
The Housing Ministry said the plans were drawn up in 2012-13, and last year, it had paid off outstanding contracts with design teams.
"During 2015 there were no activities whatsoever on site E1," it said. "At no time did the office proceed with housing plans on said site."
The Palestinians say that Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, is a sign of bad faith in any future negotiations.
Nearly 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank, in contravention of international law, which states that population transfer into a military-occupied area is prohibited.
Many have been responsible for hundreds of attacks on Palestinians and burning Palestinian farmland in recent years, often provoking violent reponses.
The international community, including Israel's main backer, the United States, rejects settlements as illegal or illegitimate, saying they undermine the goal of establishing a Palestinian state living in peace next to Israel.
The Peace Now report said more than 55,000 settlement homes were in various stages of planning. While most would take years to be approved, it said nearly 4,000 could be built in the near future.
|If it wasn't significant, why do it at all
-Peace Now on Israel's settlement "plans"
An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the matter, stressed the E1 plan was only hypothetical, and no decisions to build have yet been made.
But Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said the plans nonetheless reflected a vision. "If it wasn't significant, why do it at all," she said.
Many of the plans took place under former Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a strong advocate of the settler movement.
Israel has meanwhile insisted that Brazil accepts a former representative for settlements as its ambassador to the South American state.
Brazil has not accepted the nomination of Danny Dayan since August, and Israel said it would use "all means" to ensure that Brasilia accepts the request.