Israel to build 430 new West Bank settler homes: NGO
JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
West Bank Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim on the outskirts of Jerusalem. AP PhotoThe Israeli government on Jan. 30 published tenders to build 430 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, the head of an NGO that monitors settlement activity told AFP.
"It's the opening of the settlement floodgates," said Daniel Seidemann, head of the Terrestrial Jerusalem group.
He said that the latest plans were the first to be announced in several months but unlikely to be the last before the March 17 general election, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud is competing with other rightwing parties for the settler vote.
"This could hardly be an accident," he said. "It could not have taken place without Netanyahu's knowledge and consent."
He added that the new homes were to be built in four existing settlements across the West Bank -- 112 in Adam, 156 in Elkana, 78 in Alfei Menashe and 84 in Kiryat Arba.
A senior Palestinian official denounced the plan.
"What the Israelis announced is part of a wider war... against the Palestinian people," Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official Wassel Abu Yusef told AFP.
"This is a war crime which should push the settlements issue to the International Criminal Court."
Seidemann, whose group particularly monitors settlement in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, predicted that building plans there were likely to be announced soon.
"Netanyahu has a tendency, especially when he's having trouble in the polls, to do something outrageous in Jerusalem," he said.
He pointed to Givat Hamatos, where settlement watchdog Peace Now revealed on October 1 that final approval had been granted for the construction of 2,610 settler homes.
"I don't think it's over," Seidemann said. "I would be very concerned and keep a close eye on things like Givat Hamatos."
A poll published on Friday in the Jerusalem Post showed Likud rallying after weeks of lagging behind the Zionist Union alliance of Labour and the centrist HaTnuah party of former justice minister Tzipi Livni.
The Post linked the surge to a Hezbollah missile strike on Wednesday which killed two Israeli soldiers, at the time the survey was being conducted by the Panels Research organisation.
It gave Likud a projected 25 places in the 120-seat parliament, just ahead of the Zionist Union's 24.
"Last week the Zionist Union was ahead of the Likud by two seats and two weeks ago the lead was three," the Post wrote.
But in a contradictory finding not unusual in Israeli polls, it said that 52 percent of respondents did not want Netanyahu to remain premier.
The poll of 514 respondents had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage ponts.
Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day war. Building settlements there is illegal under international law and opposed by the United States and the international community as an obstacle to an eventual peace deal with the Palestinians.