Last updated: 4 April, 2012

Israel PM seeks to legalise three settler outposts

Israel’s government on Wednesday published tenders for 1,121 new settler homes as it faced settler anger over its decision to evict Israeli families from a disputed home in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

Documents published on the Israeli housing ministry website showed the government had issued tenders for 872 new homes in Har Homa, a contentious settlement neighbourhood in the southern part of Arab east Jerusalem.

Another 180 are to be built in Givat Zeev, just to the north of Jerusalem in the West Bank, while the remaining 69 are to be built in Katzrin in the occupied Golan Heights, the documents showed.

Contacted by AFP, a ministry spokesman dismissed the tenders as “nothing new,” but settlement activists said it was the first time the offers had been made public.

“Yesterday there were no tenders for Har Homa C, today there are tenders for Har Homa C,” said Daniel Seidemann, director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli NGO which tracks developments in east Jerusalem.

“If the ministry is suggesting they are not new tenders, they are living in a parallel universe,” he said, saying most of the tenders there were for construction in Har Homa C, a new part of the settlement neighbourhood.

“This is not a planning stage. This is implementation. The contractors who have won the tenders will be selected after 60 days and then work can begin.”

Lior Amihai, who works with the settlement watch unit at Peace Now, said the construction in east Jerusalem would significantly expand Har Homa.

“It’s a real expansion of the settlement,” he told AFP. “It severs Bethlehem from east Jerusalem and it will be very harmful.”

Seidemann and Amihai said the tenders were part of 2,000 new settler homes — 1,650 of them in east Jerusalem — that Israel announced as a punitive measure after the Palestinians won membership at the UN cultural organisation, UNESCO.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out his policies later on Wednesday.

“The principle that has guided me is to strengthen Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria,” he said. “But there is one principle that we uphold. We do everything according to the law and we will continue to do so.”

The tenders were published as Israeli forces evicted a group of settlers from a home in the flashpoint Old City of Hebron in the southern West Bank, nearly a week after they moved into the property.

The settlers said they had purchased the second-floor apartment legally from its Palestinian owner, but the military said they had failed to obtain the required approval for the purchase and had ordered them out by Tuesday afternoon.

The settlers ignored the deadline and reports suggested a deal had been agreed delaying the eviction, but it went ahead largely without incident on Wednesday afternoon.

Hebron’s settler community, which numbers around 600 people in a city with 190,000 Palestinian residents, reacted angrily to the eviction, with one resident accusing the government of “treating them like the enemy.”

“Netanyahu is following in Pharaoh’s footsteps. He wants to throw us out of our land,” the settler community’s spokesman David Wilder told AFP. “We will do everything to return home.”

But anti-settlement group Peace Now welcomed the eviction, with its director Yaariv Oppenheimer telling army radio he was “pleased that, at least in this case, they didn’t go along with the settlers.”

Israel’s settlements have proved a key stumbling block in talks with the Palestinians, and new units were swiftly condemned by Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib.

“This is an additional violation of Palestinian rights and international law and contributes the destruction of the chances of a two-state solution,” he said, calling on the international community to “hold Israel accountable.”