On Monday, the Jerusalem Municipality approved a plan to build 942 new homes in Gilo, near Bethlehem, which is part of the East Jerusalem region. The municipality said this project was in addition to the 900-plus new homes approved in November 2009.
Gilo is built on land Israel captured in 1967. Under international law, occupied land cannot be confiscated by the occupying power. Yet Israel has continue to build illegal (but government approved) settlements, that are reducing the territory of a possible Palestinian state.
At the same time, settlements around East Jerusalem make it less likely for Palestinians to have that part of the city as their future capital.
The international community reacted to the new housing project in Gilo with only mild criticism.
“I am deeply disappointed by the approval of 942 new housing units in the Israeli settlement,” European Union foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton said.
“We call on the Israeli government to halt further planning for new settlement units, which undermines efforts to bring about resumed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and prejudices final status discussions,” said Richard Miron, spokesman for United Nations peace envoy Robert Serry.
Matters, however, are even worse. The Israeli human rights organisation ‘Peace Now’ said that four settlements (Rotem, Eshkolot-Sansana, Halamish-Neve Zuf and Kiryat Netafim) already under construction without any relevant permits have been authorised retroactively by Defence Minister Ehud Barak.
Almost 500,000 Jews live in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, conquered by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967, about 280,000 in the West Bank and 190,000 in and around East Jerusalem.
According to ‘Peace Now’ figures, the Israeli population in the West Bank rose by 5-6 per cent since 2001.
According to the newspaper Haaretz, the government is planning 50,000 new homes for East Jerusalem and surrounding areas.
Israel’s Interior minister said that expansion could only take place on the eastern side of the city because environmentalists are blocking development on the western side.