Israel ignores EU and US, piles on settlements
14.08.13 @ 09:25
BRUSSELS - Israel has said it will build 942 more homes for Jewish settlers on occupied land in the teeth of US, EU and Palestinian criticism.
The announcement, on Tuesday (13 August), comes after it said on Sunday it will build 1,187 new homes.
Its housing minister, Uri Ariel, added on Israeli radio on Wednesday morning: "We are going to construct thousands of settlements this year in Judea-Samaria [the occupied West Bank]. No one can dictate to us where we can build or not."
The developments come as Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are to meet in Jerusalem on Wednesday for a new round of peace talks.
A senior official in the the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said the settlements "threaten to provoke the collapse of the negotiations," just as they did in 2010.
An official in Hamas, a Palestinian group which holds sway in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, said the talks are "futile."
The US, the main sponsor of the peace process, also criticised Israel.
Secretary of state John Kerry told press while visiting Brazil on Tuesday the settlements are "illegitimate."
He noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told him the new homes will be built on land which is likely to be swapped with the Palestinians for other territory in any final deal.
"We still believe it would be better not to be doing it, but there are realities within life in Israel that also have to be taken into account," Kerry said.
A spokesman for the EU foreign service, Michael Mann, this week described the settlements as "illegal."
Some EU officials believe Israel has no intention of finalising borders because it wants to keep expanding.
Last month, the Union blocked funding for Israeli firms which operate beyond EU-recognised borders.
The new rules oblige Israel to sign territorial clauses in funding agreements which stipulate where Israeli sovereignty ends.
Israeli and EU officials are to meet in Tel Aviv also on Wednesday to discuss whether Israel will take part in Horizon 2020, the EU's multi-billion-euro research programme, in light of the new restrictions.
Israeli paper the Jerusalem Post said Israel's top delegate, Irit Ben-Abba, will tell the EU the territoriality clause is unacceptable.
But Israeli daily Haaretz says the US backs the EU initiative.
An Israeli official told the paper that when Israel's ambassador to the EU, David Walzer, met with a senior EU official, Helga Schmid, in Brussels last week, she told him: "You should know that we received support for the new guidelines on the settlements from all the European Union's member states … We're also receiving tacit support from the American administration."
For their part, several members of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (IAJLJ), a Tel-Aviv-based NGO, have signed a petition telling the EU its new rules are wrong.
IAJLJ president, Irit Kohn, told EUobserver they did it in their personal capacity because the NGO does not do politics.
She noted, also in her personal capacity, that Europeans should not underestimate the "pain" caused to families of Israeli victims by Israel's release, on Tuesday, of 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of the peace process.
She added that average Israeli people feel the "whole world is against us" and that "Palestinians and Arab states just want to wipe out Israel."
A former Israeli official, who asked not to be named, told this website: "No one believes anything good will come from the negotiations. So we are doing what we really believe in: Building settlements and preventing the creation of a Palestinian state."