Palestinian laborers work on a construction site in the east Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo, on December 18, 2012
Palestinian laborers work on a construction site in the east Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo, on December 18, 2012. Israeli planning committees are to weigh several plans for nearly 5,000 new settler homes in neighbourhoods of annexed east Jerusalem this week, with at least one major project set for final approval. © Ahmad Gharabli - AFP
Palestinian laborers work on a construction site in the east Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo, on December 18, 2012
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AFP
Last updated: December 20, 2012

Israel weighs major Jerusalem settlement plans

Israel pushed forward with plans for 3,658 new settler homes, most of them in annexed east Jerusalem, sparking Palestinian fury and condemnation at the United Nations.

Israel's plans for the construction of 2,610 homes in the as yet unbuilt Givat HaMatos district in east Jerusalem was quickly followed by the announcement of tenders for another 1,048 units, mostly in the occupied West Bank.

Wednesday's developments came two days after the approval of another 1,500 homes in east Jerusalem, which prompted Washington to denounce Israel for its "pattern of provocative action."

The United Nations and all UN Security Council powers except the United States on Wednesday condemned Israel's heightened settler construction as a threat to flagging peace efforts.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said Israel was on a "dangerous path," while European Union nations said Israel was "undermining faith" in its willingness to negotiate with Palestinian leaders.

UN assistant secretary general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman also condemned Israel's move to freeze payments of tax and customs fees it collects for the government of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and said it must transfer the monies "without delay."

Palestinian negotiator Mohamed Shtayyeh warned that Israeli steps to push through new settler homes were pushing the Palestinians to accelerate their plans to approach the International Criminal Court.

"The intensification of settlement activity and all the Israeli actions, from killings to arrests, are pushing us to accelerate our recourse to the International Criminal Court," he said.

The Palestinians are not signatories to the agreement that established the court, but could seek accession after winning upgraded UN membership.

Over the past three weeks, Israel -- which is in the middle of an election campaign -- has announced several major plans for construction in Arab east Jerusalem and the West Bank, triggering a torrent of criticism from the international community.

Over the past three days alone, Israel has moved forward plans for 5,158 new settler homes, more than 80 percent of them in the Arab eastern sector of the city, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future promised state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev in a statement said that "current construction relates to 3,000 housing units, in accordance with the government decision of November 20, 2012."

"All of these units are in Jerusalem or in settlement blocs that will remain an integral part of Israel in any future peace deal" with the Palestinians, he said.

On Wednesday morning, a Jerusalem municipal planning committee gave final approval to a proposal for 2,610 homes in Givat HaMatos, which is set to become the city's first new settlement neighbourhood in 15 years, Israeli monitoring groups said.

Until now, there has been no construction at the site on the southern flank of east Jerusalem, near Bethlehem.

The Terrestrial Jerusalem group said the approval was the final stage of a years-long planning process, with construction likely to start "within a matter of weeks or a few months."

And settlement watchdog Peace Now's Lior Amihai said the plans would be published in the coming days, with tenders expected to be published around two weeks later.

Building in Givat HaMatos would mark the start of the first new settlement neighbourhood in east Jerusalem since the establishment of Har Homa in 1997, which was set up during Netanyahu's first term of office.

On Wednesday afternoon, the housing ministry published tenders to build another 1,048 settler homes -- some of them in Har Homa, although most would be in the West Bank settlements of Beitar, Karnei Shomron, Givat Zeev and Efrat, a spokesman said.

Peace Now has described Givat HaMatos as "a game changer" which would significantly change any eventual border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

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