GAZA CITY: Israeli plans to build 1,257 settlement units south of occupied Jerusalem have been condemned by Palestinian experts, who say the move will “kill the two-state solution.”
The settlement plans come on the eve of a tour of the region by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is expected to visit an Israeli settlement built on Palestinian land in Ramallah.
The new announcement is in line with Israel’s large settlement project, a plan it has tried to implement for three decades. It aims to link the settlement of Givat Hamatos, which is built on Palestinian land in the towns of Beit Safafa and Beit Jala — part of which is owned by the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem — with other settlements in the West Bank.
Khalil Tafakji, a map and settlement expert, said the new plans are dangerous because they form a “link in the chain” of settlements in the Jerusalem 2020 Project, through which Israel aims to completely isolate Jerusalem from its Palestinian surroundings.
“Israel aims to establish what can be called a ‘Jewish Bethlehem’ by linking the settlement of Gilo and Jabal Abu Ghneim, and establishing about nine hotels to seal the entire closure of Jerusalem from the southern side and the towns of Sur Bahir, Beit Safafa and Al-Sharafa, which will completely isolated from the cities of Beit Sahour and Bethlehem,” Tafakji told Arab News.
Israel seized the areas in the 1990s and allowed the Ethiopian Jewish community to move and build there. The country has since faced several obstacles that prevented the launch the settlement project, but it is exploiting the “unlimited support” it receives from US President Donald Trump to move forward with the ambitious plans, Palestine experts said.
“In contrast to the raging Israeli policy of demolition against Palestinian homes and facilities in Jerusalem, Israel’s plans include building more than 58,000 settlement units by 2030,” Tafakji said.
More than 600,000 settlers reside in Israeli settlements that are classified as illegal according to international law, of which about 200,000 live in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, which Palestine views as the potential capital of a future state.
Israeli anti-settlement organization Peace Now said that the settlement project in Givat Hamatos would “severely impede the prospects of a two-state solution.”
The organization accused the Israeli government of “using the last weeks of the Trump administration to impose facts on
A similar sentiment was expressed by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who said in a Monday meeting that “what is going on is an escalating and intense attack plan for the next 10 weeks, in a race against time to impose a new status quo before Trump leaves the White House.”
During his four years in office, Trump showed strong and unprecedented support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and approved of Israel’s settlement projects, including the “annexation plan” to control vast swathes of land in the West Bank.
Peace Now said that settlement numbers in the Palestinian territories doubled one-and-a-half times during the Trump presidency.
Pompeo’s visit to a West Bank settlement during his upcoming tour will be the first by a US secretary of state, with experts warning that it will give Israel tacit approval to continue annexation efforts.
Spokesman for the Palestinian presidency Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the new decision is a continuation of Israel’s attempts to “kill the internationally supported two-state solution” and deny international decisions that confirm the settlements are illegal.
Although many Palestinians see Trump’s election loss as a “gain” for them, they are doubtful of “major change” arriving in the form of President-elect Joe Biden, experts say.
Head of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouti said that Trump’s disappearance does not mean the disappearance of the “deal of the century,” and Israel will use every minute to move forward with its implementation.
“Israel is racing against time and is working to anticipate the changes in the US in light of Trump’s loss. He was the US president who was most supportive of its aggressive settlement policies,” Barghouti told Arab News.
EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process Susanna Terstal said that Israel’s bid to build new settlement units between occupied Jerusalem and Bethlehem is a “very worrying development.”
In a press release, Terstal said: “I visited the region last month and saw on the ground how any settlement building in this prime location would harm prospects for a viable two-state solution with Jerusalem as the future capital of both states. There is an urgent need for Israel to reverse its decision.”
The settlement issue is the most prominent obstacle to a two-state solution, after negotiations for a permanent political settlement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel were suspended in mid-2014.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolai Mladenov said in a statement: “The Israeli settlement projects, if built, would further consolidate a ring of settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.
“It would significantly damage prospects for a future contiguous Palestinian state and for achieving a negotiated two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states.
“The construction of settlements is illegal under international law,” Mladenov added.