World Bulletin / News Desk
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered on Tuesday a reassessment of plans to build nearly 24,000 settler homes, saying he feared an international outcry that would divert attention from Israel's lobbying against a nuclear deal with Iran.
The right-wing Israeli leader announced the reversal in the face of stiff U.S. opposition to settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Palestinian anger that threatens three-month-old peace talks brokered by Washington.
“We are deeply concerned by these latest reports that over 20,000 additional units are in the early planning stages. We are currently seeking further explanation from the government of Israel. Our position on settlements is quite clear: We have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate,” said White House Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan.
State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki echoed Meehan, saying, “Our position on settlements is quite clear; we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We've called on both sides to take steps to create a positive atmosphere for the negotiations,” during Tuesday’s press briefing.
Both Meehan and Psaki called on both sides to “take steps to create a positive atmosphere for the negotiations.”
“We do not consider settlement planning, even in its early stages, to be a step that creates a positive environment for the negotiations,” added Meehan.
Peace Now, which monitors settlement activity on occupied land said yesterday that the Housing Ministry had issued tenders for nearly 24,000 more settler homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
"With tenders for planning, what we are seeing is a very early stage that can open the door for construction not in the short term, but several years down the road," Peace Now said in a statement.
But it said the potential projects for 19,786 housing units in the West Bank and 4,000 in East Jerusalem were an important indicator of where the government stands on future building, even as it engages the Palestinians in land-for-peace talks.
Peace Now said one plan called for construction in a highly sensitive area sandwiched between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the Palestinian seat of government, and could impede any efforts to reach an agreement on the future of the holy city.
"The issuing of tenders for planning is unequivocal evidence that Netanyahu intends to prevent the real chances of a negotiated agreement and a two-state solution," Peace Now said.
It said the tenders included planning for 1,200 additional housing units for the E-1 area near Jerusalem, where under U.S. pressure Israel has suspended previous projects to build more than 3,000 settler homes.
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