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Israel plans to build 2,200 settler homes, says NGO

Updated December 27, 2018

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Peace Now NGO says 1,159 housing units have been given final approval before building permits can be issued. — File photo
Peace Now NGO says 1,159 housing units have been given final approval before building permits can be issued. — File photo

JERUSALEM: Israeli authorities have advanced plans for nearly 2,200 settlement homes in occupied West Bank, the Peace Now NGO said on Wednesday, the first such approval since snap elections were called earlier this week.

A defence ministry committee with responsibility for such projects approved the plans, which are in various stages of the approval process, the settlement watchdog said in a statement.

It said 1,159 housing units were given final approval before building permits can be issued, while 1,032 were at an earlier stage.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing government agreed on Monday to dissolve parliament and call for early elections on April 9.

Netanyahu’s current coalition is seen as the most right wing in Israel’s history.

Settlements play an important role in Israeli right wing politics, and Netanyahu met settler leaders in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

“We’ll see an attempt by the left wing to overthrow our rule with the help of the media and others,” he said, speaking of the elections.

“They can’t succeed, because if they do -- that will pose a clear danger to the settlement movement.”

Calling on their support in the elections, Netanyahu told the settler leaders they should not take the fate of their enterprise for granted.

“We had to work hard, with the current American administration as well, for the great achievements we brought the settlements,” he said in remarks relayed by his office.

While Netanyahu portrays himself as a champion of settlers, their leaders say he has not done enough, with three prominent heads of West Bank settlements boycotting the Wednesday meeting in protest.

Key members of his coalition are, however, strong settlement backers and oppose a Palestinian state.

Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law and major roadblocks to peace, as they are built on land Palestinians see as part of their future state.

More than 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, which range in size from tiny hamlets to large towns. A further 200,000 live in settlements in occupied east Jerusalem.

Bill approved

Israeli lawmakers gave initial approval on Wednesday to a bill to dissolve parliament and hold early elections on April 9.

The parliament, or Knesset, voted 104 to zero in favour of the bill in the first of three readings.

Netanyahu’s coalition was left with a one-seat majority after defence minister Avigdor Lieberman stepped down last month over a controversial Gaza ceasefire deal.

Party leaders have failed to agree on a key bill regulating drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews to the army, and that was the immediate reason to move toward elections.

Analysts, however, say that Netanyahu wanted the elections before Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announces his decision on whether to indict the premier in three different corruption cases.

While no official timeframe has been given, reports say such an announcement could come in mid-April.

Visit cut short

Netanyahu cut a visit to Brazil short on Wednesday, skipping incoming president Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration. Netanyahu has had several positive interactions with the incoming Bolsonaro government.

On Nov 1 Bolsonaro announced on Twitter his plans to move the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Several Arab nations criticised the decision. Shortly after Bolsonaro’s tweet, Netanyahu stated his intention to attend the inauguration.

Despite high approval ratings, corruption investigations have cast a shadow over Netanyahu’s fourth consecutive run for office.

Netanyahu cut a visit to Brazil short on Wednesday, skipping incoming president Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration. Netanyahu has had several positive interactions with the incoming Bolsonaro government.

On Nov 1 Bolsonaro announced on Twitter his plans to move the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Several Arab nations criticised the decision. Shortly after Bolsonaro’s tweet, Netanyahu stated his intention to attend the inauguration.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2018

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