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In defiance of UN, Israel reportedly set to approve thousands of settler units

Dec. 25, 2016 2:19 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 26, 2016 2:30 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Days after the UN Security Council approved a resolution affirming the illegality of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory and called for their construction to cease, reports emerged that Israel is set to approve thousands of new settler units in occupied East Jerusalem.

The Local Planning and Building Committee of the Jerusalem municipality is expected to approve some 5,600 housing units in East Jerusalem for illegal settlements, the Hebrew version of daily newspaper Israel Hayom reported Sunday morning.

According to Israel Hayom, the move came as a direct response to the UNSC resolution 2334, that passed with unanimous approval from 14 council members, while the US abstained from voting.

The reports said that the committee will approve 2,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo, 2,600 others in Givat HaMatos, and 400 units in the Ramat Shlomo settlement.

In response to a request for comment on the reports, a spokesperson for the Jerusalem municipality only said: "Building Jerusalem is essential for the development of the city for the benefit of all residents, Jews and Arabs alike. The city will continue, with all of the tools at its disposal, to develop our capital in accordance with the city's master plan and planning and construction laws."

Israel Hayom also quoted deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meir Turjuman as saying that he “did not care” about the United Nations or “any other entity that tries to dictate to us what to do in Jerusalem.

The deputy mayor also reportedly said he was looking forward to the incoming Donald Trump administration to “make up for the shortage in construction during Obama's eight-year tenure."

Despite the US government under Barack Obama, having routinely condemned Israel’s settlement expansions, US officials have yet to take any concrete actions to end settlement building and instead inadvertently encouraged the enterprise through consistent inaction over Israel’s violation of international law and continued support of the Israeli government through inflated military aid packages.

The number of settlers living in the occupied West Bank has increased from 281,100 in 2008 to 385,900 in 2015, excluding those residing in occupied East Jerusalem. The Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ) estimates that between 500,000 and 600,000 Israeli settlers currently reside in West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements.

Meanwhile, plans for some 3,000 settler units were advanced since the start 2016 as of August according to Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, including hundreds of existing units that were “retroactively legalized” after formerly being considered illegal under Israeli domestic law.

Israeli leadership has reacted with outrage and defiance since the UNSC approved the resolution, which states that settlements have "no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law," and call on the nations of the world "to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel "would not abide by the terms" of the "shameful anti-Israel resolution," and reportedly summoned the ambassadors of the UN Security Council member states to personally reprimand each of them on Christmas day.

Meanwhile, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday morning again called for the annexation of the illegal Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim as well as all of Area C in the West Bank -- the more than 60 percent of the territory currently under full Israeli military and civil control.

Maale Adumim, located just seven kilometers east of Jerusalem, is the third largest settlement in population size, that many Israelis consider it an Israeli city that would remain under Israeli control in any final status agreement reached with Palestinians as part of a two-state solution.

Human rights groups and international leaders have strongly condemned Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state by changing the facts on the ground, while members of Israel's parliament have repeatedly come forward announcing their support for annexing Area C.

A recent report by human rights group B'Tselem argued that under the guise of a "temporary military occupation," Israel has been "using the land as its own: robbing land, exploiting the area’s natural resources for its own benefit and establishing permanent settlements," estimating that Israel had dispossessed Palestinians from some 200,000 hectares (494,211 acres) of lands in the occupied Palestinian territory over the years.

B’Tselem highlighted the “key role” of Israeli settlers in further isolating Palestinians from their lands, either through the establishment of outposts officially unrecognized by the Israeli government, or through the regular use of violence or threats of violence against Palestinians.

B’Tselem argued that settlers acted as “envoys” of Israel in pushing land grabs in the occupied Palestinian territory, allowing the government to officially detach themselves from the settlers’ violent and illegal actions, while avoiding or blocking any legal penalties that could be imposed on the settlers, except in the most extreme of cases.

"The state helps settlers operate as a mechanism for dispossession in Palestinian space -- settlers serving as a means purportedly not under state control, and settlers also use serious violence against Palestinian residents,” the group explained.

The movement of Israeli settlers taking over Palestinian land, and further displacing the local Palestinian population has been a "stable" Israeli policy since the takeover of the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1967, B'Tselem concluded, underscoring that all "Israeli legislative, legal, planning, funding, and defense bodies" have played an active role in the dispossession of Palestinians from their lands.

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