Palestinians warn of ‘catastrophe’ over major new Israeli settlement

Israeli border policemen detain a foreign activist during a protest on Friday in the West Bank village of Bil’in, west of Ramallah. (AP)
Updated 04 March 2018

Palestinians warn of ‘catastrophe’ over major new Israeli settlement

AMMAN: Palestinians fear that plans for a major new Jewish settlement will place further strain on a West Bank city already surrounded by Israel’s controversial separation wall.
Last month Israeli television revealed that three existing settlements near Qalqilya will be unified later this year. A fourth settlement is due to be added within five years, bringing together about 20,000 settlers on land that is illegally occupied under international law.
The project throws into doubt long-awaited Palestinian plans to improve and expand Qalqilya’s infrastructure, leaving residents of the most overcrowded city in the West Bank facing an uncertain future.
In response, Qalqilya Gov. Rafi Rawajba described continued Israeli settlement as “state terror.”
He called on the international community to protect the city.
“This right-wing (Israeli) government is taking away Palestinian land and using it exclusively for expanding the Jewish settlement enterprise,” he said.
Surrounded on three sides by the Israeli separation wall, Qalqilya covers an area of just over 1.5 square miles, yet is home to an estimated 53,000 residents, making it the occupied West Bank’s most densely populated city.
Palestinian officials had hoped to expand and improve the city by building 14,000 housing units, an industrial park and several playgrounds. The ambitious infrastructure project was approved by the Israeli Cabinet in 2016 following a recommendation from Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
But concerted pressure by the powerful settler movement has since caused the Israeli government to backtrack. On July 13, 2017, the Israeli cabinet decided to freeze Qalqilya’s expansion, ignoring Palestinian concerns that any pause in the development project would be a “catastrophe” and opening the way for last month’s decision to unify the settlements.
According to Israel’s Hebrew-language Channel 7, the Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has approved a plan to unite the settlements of Sheari Tikva, Etz Efraim and Elkana to the southwest of Qalqilya. A fourth settlement, Oranit, will be added in 2023, formally creating a new Israeli city in the occupied West Bank.
However, a spokesman for the Israeli movement Peace Now downplayed the impact of the settlement expansion. Brian Reeves told Arab News the expansion would reinforce the existing situation in and around Qalqilya, but not make it significantly worse.
“This decision is primarily administrative and will not give those supporting the settlement enterprise a significant advantage to confiscate land that they did not already have,” he said.


Vandals damage cars in Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem

Updated 5 min 10 sec ago

Vandals damage cars in Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem

  • Masked suspects operated under the cover of darkness to vandalize the cars in east Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood
  • The graffiti included the phrases “When Jews are stabbed, we aren’t silent”

JERUSALEM: Vandals slashed the tires of over 160 vehicles and sprayed slogans such as “Arabs=enemies” in a Palestinian neighborhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli police said Monday. Elsewhere, Palestinian residents of the volatile West Bank city of Hebron staged a general strike to protest the construction of a new Jewish settlement there.
Masked suspects operated under the cover of darkness to vandalize the cars in east Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood and spray-painted Hebrew graffiti on a nearby wall, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. He said the authorities were treating the incident as criminal with “nationalistic motives.”
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion condemned the “hate crime” and called upon the police “to find the criminals as fast as possible and bring them to justice.”
The graffiti included the phrases “When Jews are stabbed, we aren’t silent,” and “There is no place in the land for enemies.”
Hard-line nationalist Israelis have been known to execute so-called “price tag” attacks against Palestinians in response to Palestinian militant attacks or perceived efforts by Israeli authorities to limit settlement expansion.
It was unclear what motivated Monday’s incident.
In Hebron, the West Bank’s largest city, Palestinian shops, schools and businesses were shuttered for the one-day strike. Some youngsters hurled stones at Israeli military patrols, and soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.
Israel’s new defense minister, Naftali Bennett, presented his plan for a new settlement there early this month. Bennett, a longtime supporter of the West Bank settlement movement, said his plan will double the Jewish population of Hebron.
Hebron is frequent flashpoint of violence. Hundreds of hard-line Jewish settlers guarded by thousands of soldiers live in the heart of the city, which has a population of over 200,000 Palestinians.
Palestinian Mayor Tayseer Abu Sneineh said the city has formed a legal team to challenge the decision in Israeli courts.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly began settling the newly conquered territory.
Over the past five decades, Israel, citing security needs, has established a military bureaucracy in the West Bank that enforces movement restrictions on Palestinians through a complex permit system. Some 600,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The US announced a new American doctrine last month that does not consider Israeli settlements a violation of international law. It was the latest in a string of diplomatic gifts by the Trump administration to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.