The Israeli Planning Commission has approved the construction of 31 new settlements in and around Shuhada Street, an area under Israeli security control. New settlements in the heart of the city are banned under an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and this is the first such approval since 2001.
Israel intentionally chose a time when Palestinians are engrossed by the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation and the prospect of a unity government, said Nayef Hashlamoun, director of Al-Watan, a civil society group in Hebron. “This action is extremely dangerous and it aims at further exasperating the already tense situation in the heart of the Palestinian city of Hebron,” he said.
Israeli settlers had worked methodically to change the nature of the city, Hashlamoun said. “They have converted Palestinian schools into synagogues and the bus station into a military post, and now they are destroying the ability of Palestinians to regain access to Shuhada street despite earlier agreements.”
About 800 Israeli settlers live under heavy military guard in the heart of Hebron, among about 200,000 Palestinians. Peace Now, the Israeli peace advocacy group, said the Hebron settlement was “the occupation at its most ugly.”
“The permits approved today would increase the number of settlers in Hebron by 20 percent, and they required significant legal acrobatics that might not stand the test of the High Court of Justice, while doing everything to please a small group of settlers,” the group said.
The latest settlements are part of a long-held Israeli plan to make the center of Hebron more Jewish, Mohammed Aboushi, a Palestinian expert on settlements, told Arab News.
“They have been trying to Judaize the city for some time, and even though they have not added any new settlements in 15 years this decision will make the already tense situation in the city unbearable,” he said.
The West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied territories under international law and all Israeli settlement-building there in illegal.