11/18/2009, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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As Palestinian homes get demolished, new Israeli housing units are built

by Joshua Lapide
Twenty-four homes are demolished in Al-Isawiya. The expansion of the illegal settlements of Gilo (home to 40,000 Israelis) makes a contiguous Palestinian state nearly impossible. For Ban Ki-moon, such actions undermine peace. The US reacts timidly following Obama’s about-turn.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israeli soldiers and bulldozers pulled up today at 24 Palestinian homes in the village of Al-Isawiya, in East Jerusalem, to start demolishing them. Meanwhile, US and UN officials timidly rebuked Israel’s decision to build 900 housing units in Gilo, also in East Jerusalem. For experts, this makes the setting up of a Palestinian state on contiguous territory that more difficult. It also makes it almost impossible for Jerusalem to become the capital of two states.

Eyewitnesses said Israeli forces entered the village in the company of soldiers and three bulldozers to carry out 24 demolition orders. The Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality had issued demolition permits earlier this year, warning residents that they would be razed before the end of the year. Residents attempted to stop the orders by blocking the roads leading up to the imperilled homes with their cars.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday slammed Israel's “punitive demolitions” and deplored the decision of the Jerusalem Municipality to expand the illegal Gilo settlements (in East Jerusalem on the road to Bethlehem) by building 900 more housing units.

Such “settlements are illegal,” a spokesperson for Ban said. They “undermine efforts for peace and cast doubt on the viability of the two-state solution” for Israel and Palestine.

Sprawling illegal Jewish settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem are breaking up the contiguity of Palestinian territories, making it hard for a future Palestinian state, and nearly impossible to imagine East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, eventually annexing it as part of its “eternal and undivided capital”. Most of the international community does not recognise Israel’s action and most foreign embassies are still located in Tel Aviv.

The plan to expand Gilo by an additional 900 housing units will make the entire area Israeli. Currently, about 40,000 Israeli already live there.

Jerusalem Municipal authorities defended their decision, claiming that “construction [is] for Jews, Muslims, and Christians [. . .] without prejudice.”

They also said the municipality was forced to expand eastward following the scrapping of a plan that would have seen West (Jewish) Jerusalem expand on top of natural and planted forests near Ramot. After criticism by environmental groups, that plan was dropped; apparently in favour of a plan to build on Palestinian land instead.

Mr Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, asked Mr Netanyahu to freeze the Gilo settlement at a meeting in London on Monday. Mr Netanyahu replied that the project did not require government approval and that Gilo was "an integral part of Jerusalem".

The White House was “dismayed” by the decision, according to spokesman Robert Gibbs.

A few months ago, US President Barack Obama had called for a freeze on illegal Israeli settlements as a necessary precondition to restart the peace process with the Palestinians. However, just a few weeks ago, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton out the demand aside, saying that the dialogue could restart “without any preconditions” (see Joshua Lapide, “Hillary Clinton's visit to Israel triggers the Third Intifada,” in AsiaNews, 2 November 2009).

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