Construction of 455 new housing units in West Bank settlements

(Press review – week from September 7 to 11, 2009)

The Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak announced on Monday that the Israeli government authorized the construction of 455 new homes in West Bank settlements. Le Monde was detailing earlier this week the settlements which would benefit from this decision: 161 new housing units will be built in Gush Etzion’s settlement block, near Bethlehem, 84 in Modi’in Illit, west of Ramallah, 76 in Givat near Jerusalem, 25 in the settlements near Kedar, 20 in the settlement of Maskiot in the Jordan Valley. Benjamin Netanyahu has finally decided to give priority to the unity of his coalition, in defiance of international protests.

The Palestinian reaction was not long to come. The online information network Palestinian News Network reported the words of the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. The latter said that Israel was going against the international efforts for a resumption of the peace process. But as highlighted in the New York Times about the same statement, he did not repeat the Palestinian position of the total freeze of settlement as a precondition for any negotiations. He although declared that these new structures will cancel in advance the effect of a freeze on future settlements.

The New York Times titled on Monday «Israel Tries to Placate Settlers by Allowing Some Construction Before Freeze”. The newspaper underlines the intention of the Prime Minister when he authorized the construction of 450 new housing units. Yet the New York daily noted that the measure taken by Benjamin Netanyahu satisfies no one, neither the Palestinians nor the international community, nor even the Israelis, whether left or right. On the one hand, the Yesha Council, which oversees the organizations of settlers, considers it as « an awkward compromise » and criticizes the planned freeze and the too few homes allowed to be built. On the other hand, critics are coming from the anti-settlement movement Peace Now, which saw the maneuver as a real provocation and a given justification to those who oppose peace.

The French edition of the Jerusalem Post talked about a demonstration organized by some members of the right wing of Likud. Initially designed to put pressure on Netanyahu, the event took a different meaning after the decision Monday to authorize new constructions in the settlements. Some participants then see the demonstration as a support to that decision. But the climate of revolt in the Likud has not ceased, as evidenced by the words of Danny Danon, the most critical Likud MP vis-à-vis the Prime Minister: « Even if some say they want not criticize the Prime Minister during the event, our opposition within the Likud has an impact on his decisions.  »

The daily also said in another article that some personalities from the left including Ami Ayalon,-  a promoter of the peace initiative launched in Geneva in 2002, editor’s note – have created a support group for the peace efforts of the Prime Minister . They state that the goal is not to support Benjamin Netanyahu personally but to « remember that peace is in the interest of everyone, not just the Palestinians or the Americans ».

Haaretz leads for its part an investigation in the different colonies that have inherited authorizations for new constructions. The daily noted that most of these buildings had already been launched, and were sometimes built, pending authorization. Some of them were also under threat of a demolition order. Haaretz reported the words of one official saying that it was the first time that Netanyahu’s government authorizes construction in the settlements and it concerns only tenders which had been previously discussed and approved.

The Palestinian Telegraph finally stressed that the planned freeze does not cover private projects, i.e. 2500 new homes in Wast Bank settlements, nor does it include settlements in East Jerusalem. He also points out that since Israel occupied the West Bank, some 500 000 Israelis have been installed on previously Palestinian lands.