From today's Guardian, excerpts of an article by Conal Urquhart, reporting from Tel Aviv:
Jerusalem's city council plans to build three settlements on land occupied in 1967, in contravention of international law. It was announced Thursday that settlements will be built near Bethlehem and Ramallah - land already earmarked for a future Palestinian state.
Israel repeatedly has defied international law forbidding construction on land acquired by war. Since 1967 Israel has built homes for about 500,000 Israelis in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The construction would link existing Jewish settlements in Jerusalem with settlements in the West Bank. Saeb Erekat, head of negotiations for the Palestinians, said the building plans suggest Israel has no real interest in peace. "Today it is obvious that Israel wants Jerusalem for only some of Jerusalem's people," he said. "I wish Israel would do what majorities of both Palestinians and Israelis want: accept the two-state solution and accept peace."
While Israel says it supports the creation of a Palestinian state, its building projects - which include walls, fences, bypasses and tunnels as well as settlements - restrict the amount of land available to the new state. In 1967 Israel annexed East Jerusalem. Most of its residents remain in limbo, neither residents of Israel, nor of the West Bank. To ensure its hold on East Jerusalem, Israel has built a series of settlements dividing the city. The annexation was condemned by the UN and has not been recognised by any major country.
"By severing East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank," Mr Erekat said, "the Jerusalem-area wall and settlements mean no viable Palestinian state, no Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and thus no viable two-state solution." Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said the government made no distinction between East Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. "There is a difference between Jerusalem, where we have sovereignty and the West Bank where we do not and whose future will be the subject of future negotiations."
According to the newspaper Haaretz, the new communities would be aimed at housing ultra-orthodox Jews, the fastest-growing sector of the Jewish community in Jerusalem. The paper quoted the planning committee as saying "the committee sees fit to announce its intention to change the district outline plan in order to allow construction in additional areas of the city: Walaja, Givat Alona, the Atarot airport area and more."
Yehoshua Pollak, chairman of the committee, told Haaretz that up to 10,000 homes could be built in the area of Walaja, between the southwest of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. "If you strengthen Walaja, you strengthen the connection with the Etzion bloc through the tunnel road," he said. The Etzion block is a group of settlements south of Bethlehem which Israel hopes to keep, although its official position is that their future will be discussed in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The decision of the Jerusalem committee must be accepted by a national planning committee before construction can begin. A spokesman for Jerusalem city council said no final decision on the projects had been made, but there was an urgent need to build 20,000 new homes. "The local committee for housing and construction is considering various proposals for new neighbourhoods, all inside the municipal area of Jerusalem," he said.