JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he was reviving a plan for the construction of 3,000 new settler homes near East Jerusalem, a project effectively frozen after international opposition.
Netanyahu’s announcement, during an election campaign in which he has sought to shore up support from pro-settlement voters, was condemned by the Palestinians as another blow to their hopes for an independent state.
He has pledged to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and the area’s Jordan Valley as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan presented by U.S. President Donald Trump last month. Palestinians have rejected Trump’s blueprint as biased towards Israel.
Opponents of the project, in the Givat Hamatos area adjacent to the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa, said it would sever parts of East Jerusalem from the nearby Palestinian town of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.
Construction of 2,610 housing units for Jews in Givat Hamatos was approved by a Jerusalem planning committee in 2014. The Israeli government effectively put the project on hold after the United States and the European Union criticized the plan.
Visiting an area overlooking the Israeli settlement of Har Homa on the outskirts of Jerusalem on Thursday, Netanyahu said in a video he posted on social media: “Today I approved the construction in Givat Hamatos” of 3,000 homes for Jews, of which 1,000 would be marketed soon.
He said some 1,000 housing units would be built for Arabs in Beit Safafa. No construction date was announced for either area.
In a separate project, Netanyahu said another 2,200 housing units would be built in Har Homa, located like Givat Hamatos in an area of the West Bank that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after the area’s capture in the 1967 Middle East war.
“Netanyahu’s insistence on building thousands of settlement units is the systematic destruction of the two-state solution and the implementation of the Trump plan,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said after the Israeli leader’s announcement.
Palestinians and much of the world view Israel’s settlements in areas seized in the 1967 conflict as illegal under international law, but the United States and Israel dispute this.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Angus MacSwan)