Israeli authorities have approved plans for the construction of 800 new housing units for Jews in illegal housing settlements across occupied East Jerusalem. The scheme includes plans to build 560 new units in Ma'ale Adumim, 140 in Ramot and about 100 in Har Homa and Pisgat Zeev settlements. The decision taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday will further raise tensions with Palestinians, who say that settlement expansion is a roadblock to a viable Palestinian state. Settlements are considered illegal under international law and are a major sticking point for peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu also approved the building of 600 Palestinian homes in Beit Safafa in southern Jerusalem, which was long delayed owing to Israeli objections.
Khalil Tafakji, the director of the Mapping and Geographic Information Systems at the Department of the Arab Studies Society, says the 800 units are part of a larger scheme in which Israel plans to build 850,000 new houses for its Jewish population by 2020. "These plans have been in the works for a while now. The Israeli government merely chooses to announce them in comfortable instalments," Tafakji, from the research centre based in occupied East Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera, adding that 450 settler homes are already under construction in Ramot. "It takes about a year and a half for the master plan on any settlement to go through the legal process. So, for these new houses, they can start issuing tenders and beginning construction any minute now."
The proposed homes for Palestinians in Beit Safafa, a neighbourhood that has long been a point of controversy, are part of a project proposed decades ago by the Palestine Development and Investment Limited Company (PADICO), but have not moved forward pending Israel's permission, according to Tafakji. The decision to approve the construction of new homes for Palestinians, he says, is merely a "political game Israel is playing to appease the Palestinians". Several Israeli settlements, including Gilo and Givat HaMatos, have been built on land confiscated from Beit Safafa, where about 12,000 Palestinians live.