Israel has given the green light to build almost 300 homes in the West Bank amid US pledges to restart peace talks with Palestine. The move comes two days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to halt the settlement program.
The new homes will be constructed at the settlement of Beit El
near Ramallah in the West Bank.
"The Civil Administration has given the green light for 296
housing units at Beit El, but this is only the first stage of a
process before actual construction can begin," a spokesperson
for the Israeli government told reporters.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat slammed the settlement plans
as an attempt to “sabotage” fresh efforts to encourage peace
The announcement comes just two days after Prime Minister
Netanyahu vowed to halt the settlement program and give the Obama
Administration a chance to kick-start peace talks.
“This initiative proves Netanyahu is deceiving the
world,” Hagit Ofran of Israeli watchdog Peace Now told AFP.
“On the one hand, he lets us believe that he is putting the
brakes on settlement and on the other, he gives the go-ahead for an
enormous building project.”
Negotiations hit a brick wall in 2010 when the Palestinians
refused to pursue talks if Israel carried on with its settlement
program, which is widely perceived to be in breach of international
US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Washington
intends to rekindle peace talks between Israel and Palestine ahead
of his trip to the Middle East in two weeks.
Kerry told reporters at the US ambassador’s residence in Rome
that the US has "with a seriousness of purpose that has not been
present in a while and we all believe that we are working with a
short time span."
Israeli Justice Minister and Chief Negotiator Tzipi Liivni
praised Kerry for his initiative, stating that the US approach had
the potential “to change realities.”
Following the UN vote recognizing Palestine as a ‘non-member
observer state’ last November, Israel announced plans to construct
another 3,000 homes on the disputed settlement sites. After
President Obama visited Israel in March, no new tenders or building
plans for the settlements have been reported.
Peace Now called the Israeli “policy of restraint” a way
of avoiding allegations that they were undermining Kerry’s efforts
to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.