JERUSALEM - Israel is planning to move ahead with another 3,360 new settler homes in the West Bank, Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday, quoting an MP from the ruling rightwing Likud party.
Prime Minister Benjamin “Netanyahu’s government will begin advancing a series of construction plans in east Jerusalem and the West Bank to the tune of some 5,000 new housing units, in an effort to ‘offset’ the release of Palestinian prisoners earlier this week,” the paper said.
The figure includes the construction of 1,500 new homes in east Jerusalem which was announced early on Wednesday immediately after Israel freed 26 long-serving prisoners in line with its commitments to US-backed peace talks. But the report also detailed plans for another 3,360 homes which are to be pushed through various stages of the planning process.
Some are to be built in large settlement blocs Israel hopes to retain in any final peace deal, while others are slated for construction in isolated settlements deep in the West Bank. The information was revealed by Ofir Akunis, an MP from Netanyahu’s ruling Likud, the paper said. Akunis could not immediately be reached to confirm the details. The report said the government would market land “for the immediate construction of 860 housing units in settlements in the major blocs” naming Ariel, Maaleh Adumim, Givat Zeev, Beitar Ilit, Kareni Shomron and Elkana.
Plans for another 1,400 new homes in both the blocs and in isolated settlements will also be submitted to the planning division of the Civil Administration, which is responsible for West Bank construction permits.
And plans for another 1,100 units, which have already advanced some way through the lengthy planning process, will also be pushed forward, the paper said, adding some were tabled for isolated settlements like Shiloh and Nokdim.
Contacted by AFP, a senior government official appeared to confirm the report, although he did not cite specific numbers. “Only the 1,500 new housing units will be built,” he said, referring to Wednesday’s announcement about construction in the east Jerusalem settlement neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo.
Special correspondent adds:
A United Nations human rights expert has warned that financial institutions and real estate companies involved with Israeli housing settlements in occupied Palestinian territory – which are considered illegal under international law – may be held criminally accountable.
Addressing a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, reiterated that the settlements are unlawful.
He said that his office has been trying to inform companies, among them the European banking group Dexia and the United States-based real estate company Re/Max, that continuing their practices in the territories could be “problematic.”
It was essential, Falk stressed, to encourage corporations to withdraw their profit-making activities from the settlements. He noted that the Government of the Netherlands has discouraged investments by Dutch companies in or servicing the settlements in the West Bank, and it does not provide assistance to Dutch companies that want to engage in settlement activities. In this context, the engineering firm Royal HaskoningDH recently terminated a project in East Jerusalem.
The move by the Government is a “real breakthrough,” Falk said, in trying to build consensus around the conclusion that it is inappropriate to continue to be involved in illegal settlement-related activities in the occupied territory.
The concept was among three main points that Falk made on Wednesday during his briefing to the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues.
In his report, Falk also outlined a model of legal analysis to assess the probability of liability, including international criminal liability, for corporate complicity in breaches of international law related to illegal settlements.
“I encourage Member States and civil society to use this model as a template to examine other companies engaged in similar activities related to the illegal settlement enterprise,” he said in a press statement.
The question of corporate complicity addressed in the Special Rapporteur’s report follows on from the call he made last year at the General Assembly for Member States as well as civil society to boycott Israeli and international businesses profiting from Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine.
“I strongly encourage all business to use the UN Guiding Principles on
Business and Human Rights as a guide for how to conduct their business, and to exercise due diligence to ensure they do not contribute to human rights violations and abuse, and in order to avoid responsibility for complicity in breaches of international law,” he said.
Among other issues, Falk recommended that the General Assembly seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as to the status and general legality of prolonged occupation.
He noted that while there were no expectations that Israel would comply with such an advisory opinion, or that it would automatically qualify for enforcement by the UN Security Council, it would be a genuine determination with careful legal reasoning from some of the best legal minds in the world.
“It should be treated as authoritative guidance on the nature of international laws bearing on a situation of this sort,” Falk said.