Tags: israel settlements continue

Jewish Settlers Resume Construction

Monday, 27 Sep 2010 06:51 AM

Jewish settlers began building in several West Bank settlements hours after a 10-month partial moratorium on construction ended and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Palestinian leaders not to abandon peace talks.

Crews began work early today on dozens of homes in a new neighborhood in the Ariel settlement, municipal spokeswoman Chen Kedem said in a phone interview. Naftali Bennett, director- general of the Yesha Council, which represents the 300,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, said construction is also taking place in the settlements of Oranit and Adam.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said he can’t continue with peace talks that started earlier this month in Washington if Israel keeps building settlements. Netanyahu has said his government doesn’t plan to continue the freeze.

“I hope that President Abbas will continue the talks and continue with me the path to peace that we began three weeks ago,” Netanyahu said in a text message sent to journalists from his office minutes after the midnight deadline that ended the freeze.

Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said, speaking by phone before the end of the moratorium, that his side “will judge by what happens on the ground.” Top Arab diplomats will meet in Cairo next week to discuss the future of the peace process, said Shaath. The U.S. still wants Israel to extend the moratorium, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said.

“We remain in close touch with both parties and will be meeting with them again in the coming days,” Crowley said in a statement. “We remain focused on the goal of advancing negotiations toward a two-state solution and encourage the parties to take constructive actions toward that goal.”

Handful of Settlements

The construction today appeared to be limited to a handful of the 120 settlements across the West Bank. Bennett said many building companies don’t work during the Jewish holidays this week, which conclude on Sept. 30. Another hurdle to wide-scale construction is that contractors are reticent to work on projects that could be further postponed, Bennett said.

Construction will be “ramped up gradually,” Bennett said. Settlers have the necessary permits to build about 1,500 homes, Bennett said, adding that the government could halt further building by denying approval.

Netanyahu said in the statement earlier today that he is willing to continue uninterrupted contacts over the next few days to find a way to allow peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians to move forward.

‘Display Restraint’

Yesterday, the Israeli leader urged Jewish settlers to “display restraint and responsibility” ahead of the freeze’s end, his spokesman Nir Hefez said in a statement.

“What has happened is midnight has passed and nobody has turned into a pumpkin,” said Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv. “The deadline passed and the talks are ongoing. The issue is not going to go away but it is being managed and can go on with this ambiguity for a couple of weeks easily.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke yesterday with Netanyahu and former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who serves as an international special envoy to the Middle East, Crowley said.

Special Mideast envoy George Mitchell and Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman conferred with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat yesterday afternoon in New York, the State Department said.

“Israel hasn’t extended the settlement freeze but also hasn’t declared a new settlement expansion,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. “Therefore Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is going to have to wait and see.”

Negotiating Table

The freeze, declared by Netanyahu in November in what he said was a bid to bring Palestinians to the negotiating table, excluded some 3,000 homes as well as some public buildings.

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, a Likud member, said on Sept. 25 that the prime minister wouldn’t have a Cabinet majority to extend the freeze and urged the Palestinians not to use construction in the settlements as an excuse to abandon talks.

Israel has built about 120 settlements in the West Bank since the late 1960s. Another 100 smaller settlements, which Israel calls outposts, were built during the past decade. The United Nations says settlements are illegal and the International Committee of the Red Cross says they breach the Fourth Geneva Convention governing actions on occupied territory. President Barack Obama has said they aren’t legitimate.

Israel says settlements don’t fall under the convention because the territory wasn’t recognized as belonging to anyone before the 1967 war, in which Israel prevailed, and therefore isn’t occupied.

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Jewish settlers began building in several West Bank settlements hours after a 10-month partial moratorium on construction ended and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Palestinian leaders not to abandon peace talks.
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