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Controversial Israel housing settlement units greenlighted

December 17, 2012|By Edmund Sanders

JERUSALEM -- Israel gave a green light Monday to 1,500 new units of Jewish housing in the Ramat Shlomo development in the northern Jerusalem area, an expansion that had triggered a diplomatic rift with the U.S. after it was first announced during a 2010 visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden.

The project, located on land Israel seized during the 1967 Middle East war, had been largely dormant after the Obama administration complained that the timing of the announcement during Biden’s trip was an “insult.” The U.S. opposes Israeli settlement on land beyond the 1967 Green Line, considering it an obstacle to peace talks.

The expansion was revived recently after Palestinians won a United Nations General Assembly vote in November upgrading their status in the international body to observer “state,” anti-settlement activists say.

Government officials downplayed Monday’s decision. “This is another stage in a procedural process,’’ said government spokesman Mark Regev. “This is not a final decision to build or issuing of tenders for construction.”

But Jerusalem attorney Daniel Seidemann, a leading opponent of settlement activity, said only minor technical hurdles remain and that construction tenders could be issued in the coming weeks.

“This is part of an unprecedented surge in settlement action since 1967,’’ Seidemann said. He estimated that the government is currently reviewing plans for 14,000 units in various stages of the approval process in the Jerusalem area, including a proposed development known as E1.

The renewed settlement activity follows the Palestinian Authority’s U.N. bid, which Israel and the United States opposed. In the wake of the vote, Israeli officials vowed to expand settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem area, which Palestinians hope to make part of their state.

Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would advance the E1 project known, which critics say threatens the viability of a Palestinian state by further isolating the West Bank from Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

The E1 project triggered a wave of criticism from European nations. Most of the world views Israel’s settlement construction on land beyond the 1967 line as a violation of international law.

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