Israel is expected to announce the construction of new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem when it frees a third group of Palestinian prisoners next week as part of US-brokered peace talks, an official said Thursday.
Palestine has previously warned that any further settlement expansion could scuttle the negotiations, which resumed in July after intensive shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Under the package, Israel has agreed to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners. The releases, taking place in four stages, have caused uproar in Israel because the prisoners have been convicted of deadly attacks on Israelis.
Two previous rounds of prisoner releases, in August and in October, have coincided with Israeli announcements of construction -- provoking Palestinian ire.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the same was also planned for the third round of releases, which is scheduled for December 29.
"The Israeli government will announce tenders for new construction in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem which will coincide with the release of a third group of Palestinian prisoners," the official said.
It was not immediately clear how many units were planned or where, but Israel’s Channel 10 TV said the government would announce plans to build between 1,000-2,000 new Jewish homes.
Rise in violence dogs progress
Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, captured territories claimed by the Palestinians as parts of a future state, have been a major source of tension in Mideast peace efforts. More than 550,000 Israelis live among 2.5 million Palestinians in these areas, raising fears that the growing numbers will soon reach a point of no return that will make it impossible to partition the land.
During a recent visit to a military base, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, declared, “I think it is our right to build, certainly according to our understandings and agreements with the Americans. And in accordance with that, we shall continue to build.”
Last week, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the peace talks would definitely fail if Israel continued to expand its settlements on land seized in a 1967 war. He also said that since negotiations started in July, Israel had announced plans to build some 5,992 new housing units.
Wasil Abu Yousif, a Palestinian official, said the expected announcement is evidence that Israel is “not serious” about pursuing peace. “It’s clear to everyone now that the Israeli government is killing the peace process.”
The negotiations have so far made no clear signs of progress on core conflict issues, but Kerry has expressed hopes of achieving a deal by April.
In the past few months, however, the talks have been dogged by a rise in violence, with at least 19 Palestinians and four Israelis killed in occupied territory since the negotiations began.
In the latest incidents, a Gaza sniper shot dead an Israeli civilian contractor repairing a border fence on Tuesday, and Israel retaliated with air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza, one of which killed a three-year-old Palestinian girl.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2013-12-26