Israel moves ahead on sensitive east Jerusalem settlement plans
The Israel Land Authority announced on its website on Sunday that it had opened up tenders for more than 1,200 new homes in the strategic settlement of Givat Hamatos in Jerusalem.
The move may test ties with the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to take a firmer tack against Israeli settlement expansion after four years of a more lenient policy under President Donald Trump.
The settlement watchdog group Peace Now and other critics say construction in the settlement would seal off the Palestinian city of Bethlehem and the southern West Bank from east Jerusalem, further cutting off access for the Palestinians to the eastern part of the city.
East Jerusalem is earmarked as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
It also comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to travel to the region this week, where he is expected to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, which previous US secretaries of state have avoided. Palestinian officials, who have been snubbed by the Trump administration, have denounced the planned visit. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh tweeted on Friday that this was a "dangerous precedent" that legalises settlements.
Brian Reeves, a spokesman for Peace Now, said the move on Sunday allows contractors to begin bidding on the tenders, a process that will conclude just days before Biden's inauguration. Construction could then begin within months.
"This is a lethal blow to the prospects for peace and the possibility of a two-state solution," between Israel and the Palestinians, Peace Now said in a statement, adding that Israel was "taking advantage of the final weeks of the Trump administration in order to set facts on the ground that will be exceedingly hard to undo in order to achieve peace".
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war — for their future state.
Much of Jerusalem is already blocked off from the West Bank by a series of checkpoints and the separation barrier. Israel has previously moved forward on plans to build in E1, another sensitive area east of Jerusalem that critics say, with Givat Hamatos, would block east Jerusalem off entirely from the West Bank.
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