Tue, Nov 05, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Israel issues 1,859 tenders to construct settlement homes

AFP, JERUSALEM

Israel issued tenders to build 1,859 settler homes on Sunday, angering Palestinians ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry aimed at pushing the peace process forward.

Documents published on the Web site of the government-run Israel Land Authority showed that 1,031 plots were being offered by the Israeli Ministry of Housing and Construction in the occupied West Bank and 828 in annexed east Jerusalem.

Settlement watchdog Peace Now said that issuing building tenders was the last stage in the bureaucratic process and that homes could start going up shortly.

“Within a few months they will choose the winning bids and the successful contractors will be able to start building within a number of weeks [after that],” the group’s Hagit Ofran said.

The Palestinians, who have long viewed settlements as a major obstacle to resolving the decades-old conflict, threatened to go to the UN Security Council over the latest Israeli move.

“The PLO {Palestine Liberation Organization} is considering a mechanism to go to the Security Council and the UN against these new Israeli decisions, especially as there are international resolutions that consider settlements illegal,” PLO senior member Wassel Abu Youssef told reporters, without elaborating.

Kerry, speaking on Sunday in Cairo on the first stop of an 11-day tour, which will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories, sought to calm fears that peace talks were faltering.

“I remain hopeful, and we will make every effort in the United States to move the process forward in a fair-handed way, a balanced way that reflects the complexity of these issues,” he said.

He said that Washington remained committed to helping the parties reach a final peace deal, but acknowledged recent tensions over Israel’s stated intention to keep building settler homes.

On Wednesday last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Saar were reported to have agreed to build 1,500 new homes in the east Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo.

That news broke almost immediately after Israel began freeing 21 prisoners to the West Bank and another five to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, in line with commitments to the US-backed peace efforts.

“Whenever Netanyahu makes a small step towards peace, he makes two larger steps to make it harder to get to peace,” Peace Now said.

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