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Israel Approves Construction and Planning of 2,500 Settler Homes in West Bank

Announcement criticized by top settler body, which calls it a 'disappointment.' EU calls Israeli construction plans 'regrettable,' Palestinians term them a 'deliberate provocation.'

By Barak Ravid     24 January 2017       Haaretz
Construction in the settlement of Ariel
Construction in the settlement of Ariel  Ilan Assayag
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman approved the construction and planning of some 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank on Tuesday.
Overall, the marketing of lands for the immediate construction of 909 new homes have been approved, as well as the expediting of planning at the relevant committees for an additional 1,642 homes.
According to a Defense Ministry press release, most of the units are located within settlement blocs, while some 100 of them are located in the settlement of Beit El, and others in Migron. However, a look at the planned locations shows the construction is slated for outside the settlement blocs, as well.
Number of planned housing units
In total, 909 units were approved for immediate marketing. These are divided up among the following settlements: Givat Ze'ev, 552 units; Alfei Menashe, 78 units; Beitar Elite, 87 units; Ma'ale Adumim, 90 units; Ariel, 63 units; Efrat, 21 units and Elkana, 18 units.
Another 1,642 units will enter a planning phase in the National Planning and Building Council, divided up as follows: Ets Efraim, 81 units; Givat Ze'ev, 100 units; Kokhav Ya'akov, 86 units; Har Gillo, 4 units; Zufim, 292 units; Oranit, 154; Ariel, 899 units; Sha'arei Tikva, 6 units and Beit El, 20 units.
Netanyahu said that "we are building - and will continue to build." Lieberman said that, "We are returning to life as normal in Judea and Samaria."
The new construction and planning came under fire from the Yesha Council of settlements, which called it a "disappointment" and said the new units "don't meet demand."
Most of the units will get caught up in bureaucracy and won't be constructed, leaving just a few hundred that will, Yesha said in a statement. "Unfortunately, this is a deception meant to look like large-scale approval of construction, while in reality, as on previous occasions, only a few hundred will be built and the rest will only be planned."
"The American government has changed and Israel's policies also need to change. The Israeli government needs to approve all the plans currently on the table and issue bids to build in all of Judea and Samaria, Shomron and the Jordan Valley," said the statement.
The Palestinian Authority rejected the construction plan as a "deliberate provocation by Israel making a mockery of the international community."
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the decision "damages attempts to restore security and stability to the region and will encourage radicalization and terrorism, and place obstacles before any attempt to create a diplomatic process that would lead to peace and security."
Jordan also condemned the decision. A statement by the government spokesman, Mohammed al-Momani called the plans a violation of international law that seeks to undermine peace efforts and hurt Palestinian rights.
"It deals a tough blow to efforts to revive the peace process," Momani said. He urged the international community to put pressure on Israel to stop the construction.
The European Union called recent Israeli moves for construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem "regrettable," saying that they "further seriously undermine the prospects for a viable two-state solution."
"It is regrettable that Israel is proceeding with this policy, despite the continuous serious international concern and objections, which have been constantly raised at all levels," said the statement.
On Monday, Netanyahu informed the members of the inner security cabinet that he has decided to lift all restrictions on Israeli construction in East Jerusalem resulting from international diplomatic pressures, two senior officials who have been briefed on what transpired at the meeting said.
Netanyahu added that at the same time when construction plans would be promoted in East Jerusalem, he intends to also advance construction in West Bank settlement blocs.
The Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee on Sunday approved the construction of hundreds of building units beyond the Green Line, or the pre-1967 borders, in Jerusalem. Some of the committee’s hearings were postponed in recent weeks for fear of pressure from the Obama administration.
In recent years, every approval of this type brought on American condemnation and diplomatic pressures. As a result, building plans in the city have often been frozen, usually due to instructions received from the Prime Minister’s Office. In many cases the plans were removed from the agenda shortly before the hearings in order to prevent diplomatic crises with the Americans.
Peace Now strongly condemned the new housing plans, calling them a “desperate attempt” by Netanyahu to divert the agenda from the corruption cases against him and criticism from the right about the handling of Operation Protective Edge. Netanyahu is “leading Israel into a binational state reality. The price of this transparent spin of Netanyahu's will be exacted solely at the expense of Israeli citizens,” the organization said.
Gili Cohen and Yotam Berger contributed to this report.
Barak Ravid
Haaretz Correspondent
Netanyahu Ahead of Trump Phone Call: I Am Willing to Give Palestinians a 'State-minus'
Israeli prime minister to discuss Iran, Palestinians and Syria with President Trump on Sunday, noting that overturning the Iran nuclear deal remains a top objective for Israel.
by Barak Ravid     22 January  2017 
 Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu at Trump Tower, September 25, 2016.
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu at Trump Tower, September 25, 2016. GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened Sunday's diplomatic-security cabinet meeting by congratulating U.S. President Donald Trump, adding that he expects to speak with Trump for the first time since his inauguration. Netanyahu added that he would like to discuss the Palestinian issue, the situation in Syria and the Iranian threat with Trump.
Netanyahu hinted that legislation aimed at annexing the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim is expected to be discussed at 3 P.M. The prime minister said no one has done more for the settlements than his government, adding that he will continue to work for the settlements in a smart and responsible manner. Earlier Sunday, the prime minister told Likud ministers that he was only willing to give Palestinians a "state-minus."
He added that stopping the Iranian threat and overturning the nuclear deal continues to be a top objective of the State of Israel.
Netanyahu congratulated Trump over Twitter on Inauguration Day, writing "Congrats to my friend President Trump. Look fwd to working closely with you to make the alliance between Israel&USA stronger than ever."
On Saturday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sent his congratulations to President Trump and invited him to Jerusalem. 
"The alliance between our states and our nations is not solely based on friendship. It is rooted in our shared values and longstanding commitment to freedom, liberty and democracy - the foundation stones of our societies," Rivlin wrote Trump.
"As you take this esteemed office, I wish to express my gratitude for the support and friendship of the American people, along with my hope that our special relationship and cooperation will continue to flourish and grow stronger," Rivlin continued.
On Friday, Haaretz revealed that Israeli intellgence officials warned Netanyahu against pushing Trump to tear up the Iran nuclear deal. According to the report, "there is concern that revoking the pact would cause a chasm between Washington and the other signatories, most importantly Moscow and Beijing. In addition, a direct clash between Iran and the United States over the issue would mean forfeiting the agreement’s accomplishments: Iran’s commitment to refrain from creating nuclear atomic weapons, setting back its project by at least several years and extending the 'breakout time' Tehran would need in order to produce a single nuclear weapon."
On Saturday night, Netanyahu posted a video to his Facebook page stating that one of the main issue he would be bringing up with Trump in their first meeting was the Iranian threat, and that he intended to talk to the new U.S. president “about ways to oppose the threat of the Iranian regime, which calls for the destruction of Israel.”
Bennett responded to Netanyahu's video within one minute on Twitter: “Iran is an important issue but preventing another Iran in the heart of Judea and Samaria is no less important.” Bennett wrote that “a historic opportunity must not be missed to prevent Palestine on Highway 6 on the pretext of the Iranian threat," referring to a major toll road bordering the West Bank.
In a further tweet, Bennett wrote that Trump’s entry to the White House was a new era. “For the first time in 50 years, the prime minister can decide: either sovereignty or Palestine. The continuation of the Bar-Ilan/Palestine line will be a disaster for generations to come. We will work toward sovereignty.”
Barak Ravid
Haaretz Correspondent
Israeli Minister to Present Cabinet With Proposal to Annex Dozens of Jerusalem-area Settlements

Yisrael Katz objects to proposed annexation of all Area C and the 150,000 Palestinians living there, but his plan also significantly includes settlement annexation and accelerated construction in the West Bank
Construction underway in the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, December 2016.
Construction underway in the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, December 2016. Olivier Fitoussi
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Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Yisrael Katz is expected to present at Sunday's diplomatic-security cabinet meeting a proposal to annex dozens of settlements in the Jerusalem area, including Ma’aleh Adumim, as part of an Israeli diplomatic initiative.
Katz's proposal comes on top of Habayit Hayehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett's move to enact a law that would apply Israeli sovereignty to Ma’aleh Adumim, also set to be discussed at the cabinet meeting.
On Sunday morning, Katz announced that he agreed with  Netanyahu to bring up his initiative, dubbed the "Israeli initiative plan," at the meeting. Against the backdrop of global and regional realities, Katz stressed, Israel must undertake a widespread initiative coordinated with the new American administration so that it provide it with backing or even lead some of the moves.
The issue of annexing Ma'aleh Adumim came up at the Likud ministers' meeting that took place earlier on Sunday. Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis slammed Bennett at the meeting, against the backdrop of the pressure the latter is exerting on the prime minister regarding the Ma'aleh Adumim law. However, Akunis also told Netanyahu that unlike him, he himself opposes the two-state solution, as is the Likud's position.
In response, Netanyahu said that Akunis doesn’t understand his position on the establishment of a Palestinian state.
"I'm not sure that you would have opposed my opinion had you heard it in detail," Netanyahu said. "Because what I'm willing to give the Palestinians is not exactly a country with all the powers, but a 'state-minus' and that's why the Palestinians don’t agree [to it]."
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Yoav Davidovich
In a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu accepted the two-state solution for the first time and said that he supports "the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish State of Israel."
The collapse of the framework to evacuate the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona was also discussed at the meeting. Netanyahu said that he isn’t contemplating a return to the so-called "Regularization Bill" that includes an article cancelling High Court of Justice decisions.
"The attorney general also opposes this, and we also need to be responsible vis-à-vis the international arena," Netanyahu said. "This law was used as one of the excuse for the Security Council resolution on the settlements, which would have probably been accepted anyhow."
Yisrael Katz's five-part plan
Katz's plan is comprised of several parts:
1. The annexation of settlements around Jerusalem – Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Gush Etzion and Betar Ilit – and their inclusion in what Katz calls the "Greater Jerusalem metropolitan area" while maintaining their municipal independence, similar to Paris or London.
2. The establishment of a similar municipal authority for the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem that are situated beyond the separation barrier and are today cut off from all municipal services.
3. Reaching an understanding with the Trump administration over Israeli policy on building in the settlements in a way that would allow free construction for all populations in East Jerusalem, as well as an understanding on construction within the municipal area of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
4. Promotion of the plan to build an island off the Gaza Strip, home to a port, water desalination facilities and energy facilities, which would give Gazans a gateway to the world in accordance with security arrangements.
5. Promotion of the "tracks to the East" plan, connecting railways from the Mediterranean Sea and the Haifa port to Jordan and Arab Sunni countries. The Palestinian Authority would be connected to the rail network as well.
"This plan strengthens Israel's standing, improves the situation in the region and doesn’t contradict the possibility of future negotiations and diplomatic agreements," Katz said. He also clarified that he objects to Bennett's plan to annex all of Area C and the 150,000 Palestinians living there.
Katz's proposal, which significantly includes settlement annexation and accelerated construction in the West Bank, comes as Bennett pressures the government to reject the two-state solution and promote Israel's gradual annexation of all settlements.
The first step in this framework would be the promotion of the Bennett-backed bill aimed at annexing the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, slated to come up for a vote Sunday in a ministerial panel, though it remains unclear whether it will come to a vote.
Netanyahu is trying to torpedo the bill. Haaretz has learned that Netanyahu spoke by phone Friday with Bennett and asked him to postpone discussion of the bill in light of messages conveyed by advisers of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Netanyahu told Bennett that Trump’s advisers said no unilateral steps should be taken by Israel before the Netanyahu-Trump meeting, scheduled to take place in the first week of February, but rather to act in coordination and cooperation.
Netanyahu and Bennett agreed that the issue of settlement annexation and Israel's policy vis-à-vis the Trump administration will be discussed at Sunday's cabinet meeting.
Senior Likud officials said they believed the bill would not move ahead at this time. However, senior Habayit Hayehudi officials said that if serious reasons are not given to postpone the bill, a vote would take place Sunday evening, as soon as the cabinet meeting ended, or Monday morning.
Barak Ravid
Haaretz Correspondent