Last updated: 17 January, 2013

Netanyahu’s government gave record boost to settlements

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government advanced a “record” number of settlements during its four years in power, an NGO said Wednesday as another 200 tenders for settler homes were issued.

In a report, Israel’s Peace Now settlement watchdog said the government’s actions revealed “a clear intention to use settlements to systematically undermine and render impossible a realistic, viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

In 2012 alone, at least 1,747 new West Bank settler homes were built with the defence ministry approving discussion and promotion of another 6,676 units.

Last year also saw the housing ministry publish tenders for 762 West Bank settler homes and a list of another 1,048 upcoming tenders.

In the same period, the government decided to “legalise” 10 settler outposts built without authorisation, while activists set up another four new outposts, it said.

In a separate development, Terrestrial Jerusalem, another watchdog, said the government had issued new tenders for 84 units in settlements in the southern West Bank city of Hebron and another 114 units in Efrata settlement near Bethlehem.

“They are all residential units,” the NGO’s director Danny Seidemann told AFP.

Media said the Hebron homes would be in the Givat Harsina neighbourhood of the hardline Kiryat Arba settlement adjoining the city.

Later on Wednesday, officials were expected to rubber stamp a controversial plan to build a new National Defence College for the Israeli military on the Mount of Olives in annexed east Jerusalem.

“Bringing the military academy to this sensitive spot is provocative,” Peace Now has said.

Israel does not view construction in east Jerusalem, which it captured in 1967 and later annexed, as illegal, although the Palestinians want it as the capital of their future state.

It differentiates between “legal” settlements and “illegal” outposts set up without government permission, but the international community views all settlement activity on occupied territory as a violation of international law.

The Palestinians refuse to hold peace talks while Israel builds on land they want for a future state.

Overall, the Netanyahu administration has been responsible for “a record number of tenders,” Peace Now said, paving the way “for an explosion of construction in settlements in the coming years.”

Since it took office in March 2009, construction started on 6,867 units in the West Bank, and tenders have been published for 5,302 units in both the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

“Many of these tenders are focusing on settlements… whose expansion directly undermines the possibility of achieving a two-states solution,” the report said.

Israeli media on Wednesday were abuzz with a Bloomberg opinion piece purporting to give US President Barack Obama’s view of Benjamin Netanyahu’s “self-defeating” policies.

In the article, columnist Jeffery Goldberg said Obama appeared to see Netanyahu as a “political coward” over the peace process with the Palestinians who was completely “captive to the settler lobby,” and whose settlement activity was moving Israel “down a path toward near total isolation.”

The Netanyahu government advanced and approved 8,730 units in West Bank settlements over the past four years, Peace Now said, noting that the figures could be higher because the defence ministry does not make public its approvals for planning.

In east Jerusalem, over 10,000 settlement units have been approved during Netanyahu’s term.

Central Bureau of Statistics figures show that at least 3.4 billion shekels ($1 billion/753 million euros) has been spent in “surplus funding to settlements, funding that would not have been spent if the settlers were living inside Israel proper,” the report said.