Israel approves 500 new West Bank homes
JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
A protestor waves a Palestinian flag in front of Israeli troops during a protest against Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah, Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. AP PhotoAn Israeli committee on Wednesday approved construction of 500 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Shilo and retroactively legalised more than 200 built without permits, a spokesman said.
The committee, which falls under the auspices of the defence ministry, approved "construction of 500 units," civil administration spokesman Guy Inbar told AFP.
He also confirmed reports that more than 200 homes which were built without a permit, some in the nearby settler outpost of Shvut Rachel, would be legalised.
"Yes it's true -- they will be legalised for humanitarian reasons," he said.
The civil administration is the military body which manages all civilian affairs, including building and planning issues, in portions of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civilian control.
Press reports said some of the 200 homes which would be granted legal status were in Shilo, a settlement with 2,000 residents 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Nablus.
Others would be in Shvut Rachel, a nearby outpost home to 400 people, and the government has pledged to retroactively legalise.
The plans provoked an angry reaction from the Palestinian Authority, which said the aim was to destroy any chance of a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict.
"These decisions are designed primarily to attack and destroy the option of the two-state solution," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
"We strongly condemn this new settlement decision, which once again confirms beyond any doubt that the government of Israel has chose settlement instead of peace." He also pointed the finger at the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers, which comprises diplomats from Russia, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.
"There are some parties of the Quartet that provide protection for Israeli settlement practices and its continued occupation of the Palestinian territories," he said.
"It is time for these countries to increase the pressure on Israel's practices against the Palestinian people, and stop dealing with Israel as a country above the law." His words were echoed by Yariv Oppenheimer, head of the settlement watchdog Peace Now, who described the move as "one of the biggest projects in the territories." The decision, he said, proved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "doing everything he could to prevent the creation of two states for two peoples." Israel considers settlement outposts built without government approval to be illegal and often sends security personnel to demolish them, although in recent months the government has announced its intention to retroactively legalise a number of them.
More than 310,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and the number is constantly growing.
Another 200,000 live in a dozen settlement neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in 1967 and annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
The international community considers all settlements in territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war are illegal, whether or not approved by its government.