Israel presses on with plan for 6,000 new settler homes
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli officials said they would press on with plans this week to build 6,000 homes for settlers on land claimed by Palestinians, defying criticism from Western powers who fear the move will damage already faint hopes for a peace accord.
Stung by de facto recognition of Palestinian sovereignty in a U.N. General Assembly vote last month, Israel announced it would expand settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
An Israeli Interior Ministry planning committee on Monday gave preliminary approval for 1,500 new homes in the Ramat Shlomo settlement.
The panel will now start discussing plans for another 4,500 homes in two other settlements, Givat Hamatos and Gilo, in back-to-back sessions that could run into next week, ministry spokesman Efrat Orbach said on Tuesday.
Israel counts the three settlements as part of its Jerusalem municipality, though they are on West Bank land seized in the 1967 Middle East war.
Palestinians see the settlements as obstacles to achieving a viable state with a capital in East Jerusalem.
"Settlement activity is unilateral and is completely adverse to the continued viability of a two-state solution and the possibility for our people to continue to exist," Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told Reuters on Monday.
Most countries deem the settlements illegal and Western powers have been especially troubled by Israel's declared intent to build in E-1, a wedge of land between East Jerusalem and the West Bank where it had previously held off under U.S. pressure. Continued...