Ma'an News Agency 9 August 2016
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli Jerusalem municipality has reportedly been working on plans to construct a new illegal settlement southwest of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, according to Israeli media.
Israeli news website Walla reported Monday that Israel’s Jerusalem municipality filed the plan for 2,500 housing units under the name “olive trees district,” due to the vast number of historic olive trees that span across the 280-dunam area.
Israeli officials behind the new settlement have reportedly been working on garnering enough support to start building in the area area for the past eight years.
Israeli Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Municipality Meir Turgeman, who is also the head of the local planning and construction committee, expressed confidence that the construction of the settlement would be approved once it is formally presented to the committee and to the Israeli Land Authority.
The settlement contractors reportedly met last week with the head of the illegal Gilo settlement committee and other members, where they presented the plan for the new “olive trees district” settlement, and encouraged the “immediate execution” of the plan, which, like all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, would violate international law.
Israel has come under harsh criticism for a spike in illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks, with settlement watchdog Peace Now saying that illegal settlement activity only fuels extremism, adding that “the real answer to terror is ending the occupation and reaching a negotiated agreement.”
In addition to approving plans to construct 770 out of 1,200 settlement units between the illegal settlement of Gilo and the Palestinian town of Beit Jala in the southern Bethlehem district last week, Israel also opened tenders for 323 units in and around Occupied Jerusalem in the illegal settlements of Gilo, Neve Yaakov, Pisgat Zeev, and Har Homa.
In early July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced plans to build 560 additional units in the illegal settlement of Maale Adumim and 240 units in the illegal settlements of Ramot, Gilo and Har Homa.
Maale Adumim, located just seven kilometers east of Jerusalem, is the third largest settlement in population size, encompassing a large swath of land deep inside the West Bank. Many Israelis consider it an Israeli city which would remain under Israeli control in any final status agreement reached with Palestinians as part of a two-state solution.
According to a poll published last month by the Land of Israel caucus in the Knesset, 78 percent of Israeli citizens were in favor of annexing the settlement, which the caucus believes would just be the first step before annexing the entirety of the Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank already under full Israeli civil and military control.
Within that same period, Netanyahu and Lieberman declared their intentions to expand and intensify settlement activities in Hebron after a spike in violent attacks on Israeli settlers in the area, including approving the construction of an additional 42 units in the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba.
Executive Committee Member for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Hanan Ashrawi released a statement last week denouncing Israeli settlement activity, saying “it is time to end Israel’s dangerous lawlessness.”
“In the past few months, Israel has intensified its deliberate breach of international law and conventions and has employed a series of dangerous and violent policies and racist laws and legislation against the Palestinian people aimed to systematically destroy their homes and rob them of their land, resources and rights,” Ashrawi said, criticizing the plans as further enabling “extrajudicial executions, illegal detentions and other blatant violations.”
The United Nations and European Union also slammed the recent approvals, urging Israel to halt the decisions.
The spokesperson for the European Union reacted to Israel’s announcement, saying the decision “threatens the viability of the two-state solution and calls into question Israel's commitment to a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians.”
City Hall Backs Plan for Thousands of New Housing Units in East Jerusalem
The plan is being advanced by the developer Nehemiah Davidi and architect David Guggenheim, who plan to put forth a master plan for the area, and then, pending its authorization, outline the actual details of the new neighborhood in Gilo.