On February 19, Thursday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the construction of thousands of new housing units for illegal Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem.
The units are planned in an area which is allotted to Palestine even under Donald Trump’s pro-Israel ‘peace plan.’
Netanayhu, in a video message, said that he had approved the construction of more than 5,200 illegal homes for Israeli Jews in the illegal Jabal Abu Ghneim (also known as Har Homa) settlement, as well as in the illegal Givat Hamatos settlement near the Palestinian neighbourhood of Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem. Of the total, 2,200 units were approved for construction in Har Homa and 3,000 units were approved in Givat Hamatos. Netanyahu said that 1,000 housing units will also be constructed for the ‘Arab’ (Palestinian) residents of Beit Safafa.
The move has been strongly condemned by Palestinians, as well as human rights organizations. Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said that the decision was equivalent to ‘state suicide’ and would deal a deadly blow to the ‘two-state solution’ as the new construction would disrupt territorial continuity between parts of East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, effectively ending any hopes of a viable, contiguous, independent Palestinian state.
Palestinian leadership, including the president’s office, and senior government officials also denounced the Israeli decision. Presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, “Netanyahu’s insistence to build thousands of new settler units on the territories of the Palestinian state is a systematic destruction of the two-state solution.” He also said that this was an attempt by the Israeli prime minister to win over right-wing, extremist Jewish votes in the upcoming elections, which are less that two weeks away, at the expense of the Palestinian people and peace and stability.
Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary general Saeb Erekat accused the US administration and Israel of collaborating and forming the new ‘annexation committee’ to illegally steal and colonize land belonging to the state of Palestine as per the internationally backed two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders. He also re-iterated the uniform Palestinian opposition to the Trump peace deal, which he said was designed to force the Palestinians into surrender and submission. Erekat stressed that the Israeli actions are reflective of the impunity and lawlessness that the Trump deal has provided to Israel. He added that only international intervention could stop these war crimes and violations of international law.
The Israeli housing ministry had earlier filed a request for the construction of 9,000 homes on occupied Palestinian lands between the Palestinian neighborhoods of Kafr Aqab, Qalandiya and Al-Ram in occupied East Jerusalem. According to Peace Now, the housing ministry, on February 9, submitted the master plans to the municipality of Jerusalem to build 9,000 units on the site of the now defunct Qalandiya airport, also known as the Atarot airport, which has been out of use since the second Palestinian Intifada in the year 2000. Details of the plan first came to light when the Israeli transport ministry approved a contentious proposal to extend a train line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem’s old city.
Peace Now stated: “the planned settlement neighborhood is a wedge at the heart of Palestinian urban continuity between Ramallah and east Jerusalem, which prevents the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.” The new settlement project will be the first to be built in occupied East Jerusalem since the Har Homa settlement was built in 1997. The final approval for the project is expected to come in the next two years.
Peace Now also highlighted that the planned new settlements in Atarot would lead to the Israeli government demolishing at least 15 Palestinian homes that were built in the surrounding area without official permits from the relevant Israeli authorities. Palestinians generally face significant difficulty in obtaining such construction permits from Israeli authorities.The housing ministry has claimed that most of the construction will take place on government-owned land.
Ironically, even though the state of Israel has lauded and welcomed the ‘peace plan’ put forward by the Trump White House, the construction in Atarot will take place in a territory earmarked for the “development by the State of Palestine of a special tourism zone in Atarot”. In fact, as per plan, the tourist zone would encourage Muslim tourism in Jerusalem through “state-of-the-art public transportation that provides easy access to and from the holy sites.”
The so-called peace deal by Trump is heavily biased in favor of Israel and grants most of its demands, such as sovereignty over Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, recognition of all the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and a fully demilitarized Palestinian state with Israeli control over all its national borders,
The plan has been squarely rejected not only by Palestinians, but also by an overwhelming majority of the international community which has reiterated its commitment to the two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders and denounced the Trump plan as unworkable, unrealistic and ignorant of Palestinian rights and aspirations.