Israel has approved a further stage in plans to build 1,100 new hotel rooms in a settlement neighbourhood of annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli officials confirmed on Tuesday.
The hotel rooms are slated for construction in Givat HaMatos, an as-yet unbuilt neighbourhood on the southern flank of east Jerusalem, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
“The plans were presented to the Jerusalem district planning committee five years ago and approved for deposit then,” interior ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach told AFP.
“The publication of the deposit was done now by the project initiator, the Israel Land Authority. The current stage includes advertising in newspapers and affording 60 days for objections,” she said.
After the 60-day period, the plans must either be approved or rejected by the committee before they can be validated ahead of the tendering process.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat saw the approval as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s answer to a letter sent last month from Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, listing his grievances over the failure of the peace process, among them settlement building.
“This government insists on continuing settlement activity and destroying any prospect of reviving a serious and real peace process between the Israeli and Palestinian people,” Erakat told AFP.
“The Israeli government chose to respond to our demand of halting settlement activities (in order) to give the peace process a chance, with more settlement expansion,” he said.
“We condemn this new decision and demand its halt immediately.”
The government has already made public plans for thousands of houses in Givat HaMatos, which is currently home to a small population of Israelis living mostly in trailers.
In 2011, it made public plans for 2,610 homes in the neighbourhood, which the Palestinians and Israeli anti-settlement groups slammed as an attempt to divide Arab east Jerusalem and cut it off from the West Bank.
Hagit Ofran, director of the Settlement Watch project at Israel’s Peace Now, linked the hotel construction plans to Israeli elections, which are expected to take place later this year.
“The government is trying to create as many facts on the ground as possible before the elections in order to prevent an agreement with the Palestinians,” she told AFP.
“In the specific case of Givat HaMatos, they’re blocking east Jerusalem from the south, not allowing the establishment of east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.”
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as capital of their future state and fiercely condemn all Israeli construction there.
But Israel insists that all of Jerusalem, including the eastern part it captured during the 1967 Six-Day War, constitutes its “eternal, indivisible” capital and does not regard construction there as settlement building.