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Israel to announce more settlements in occupied land

Source : Agencies | 25 Oct 2013

Israel said on Thursday it would press ahead with plans to build in existing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in an apparent bid to appease hardliners opposed to peace talks with the Palestinians.

Local media said new building tenders could be announced next week, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular seeks to douse opposition from right-wingers in his government to a planned release of Palestinian prisoners.

"In accordance with understandings reached on the eve of the restart of peace talks with the Palestinians, in the coming months Israel will continue to announce it will build in settlement blocs and in Jerusalem," part of the statement by the unnamed official said.

"Both the Americans and the Palestinians have been aware of these understandings," the statement added.

There was no immediate comment from either of those parties.

The announcement came a day after Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Rome where the Israeli-Palestinian talks were on the agenda.

The pro-settler Jewish Home party, one of Netanyahu's main coalition partners, said on Thursday it would propose a bill to bar the release of Palestinian prisoners, which has been linked to the talks.

The U.S.-brokered discussions were revived in July after a three-year hiatus but have shown few signs of progress.

Israel's chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said in Tel Aviv on Thursday she could not divulge any details but a senior Palestinian official in the West Bank town of Ramallah described the talks as very difficult.

Jerusalem is one of the most divisive issues in the talks on creating a Palestinian state in territories Israel captured in a 1967 war.

The sides are also divided over the future of Israeli settlements, where borders should run and Palestinian demands for a "right of return" for refugees and their descendants.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its "eternal" capital. In a move never recognised internationally, it has annexed the city's eastern sector.

The settlements that Israel has built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal by most countries. Israel cites historical and biblical links to the areas, where about 500,000 Israelis now live alongside 2.5 million Palestinians.

They want those two territories and the Gaza Strip for a future country but fear that more settlement building will deny them a viable state.

Israel withdrew in 2005 from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said last week that housing starts in West Bank settlement are up by 70 percent this year. It said there were 1,708 housing starts in January-June this year, compared with 995 during the same period in 2012.

ISRAEL AND EU TIES TO FRAY OVER DISAGREEMENTS

Israel and the European Union will drift apart if they cannot compromise on new EU guidelines covering Jewish settlement on occupied land that could damage research and trade ties, Israeli's deputy foreign minister said.

The two sides must overcome the dispute - focused on territory that Palestinians want for a state - before the end of November, when a multi-million dollar EU research programme called Horizon 2020 is due to be finalised.

If there is no deal, Israel risks missing out on generous funding for its scientists. By the same token, Europe will lose Israeli-know how, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin said.

"If we fail to resolve this problem, the future direction will be a kind of separation between Israel and the European Union," Elkin told Reuters in an interview.

"We are the start-up nation. It would be a big mistake for Europe to lose its relations with Israel," he said.

A senior EU official visited Israel this week, promising that the 28-nation bloc wanted to work closely with Israel and its burgeoning hi-tech economy, but all efforts so far to bridge their differences have failed.

Despite Israel's intimate diplomatic and military ties with the United States, its biggest economic partner by far is the European Union, which accounted for almost third of all exports and imports into the Jewish state last month.

Despite deep historical links, relations between Israel and Europe have grown more bumpy in recent years, with the EU increasingly vocal in its criticism of Jewish settlements, saying they imperil the chances of peace with the Palestinians.