Israel Approves Another 5,500 Settlement Units In Just Over A Week

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Israel approves another 1,200 settlement units around Jerusalem (Guardian, Dec 25, 2012):

Plan brings total approvals to 5,500 in just over a week as right urges Binyamin Netanyahu to drop two-state solution pledge

Israel has given the green light for the fast-track development of a further 1,200 settlement units around Jerusalem. It brings the total number of new approvals to 5,500 in just over a week, the largest wave of proposed expansion in recent memory.

The latest plan, which would see almost 1,000 new apartments built over Jerusalem’s green line in Gilo, comes as the Israeli media is reporting mounting pressure on the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to drop his commitment to a two-state solution from his platform for re-election in January.

The agreement for the Gilo development is only the latest in wave of settlement approvals in Jerusalem agreed by the country’s interior ministry and Jerusalem municipality’s planning committees before Christmas.

That included proposals, which attracted international criticism, to develop the controversial E1 block to the east of Jerusalem.

Although Netanyahu, who leads a coalition with the ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, is still expected to win the most seats in the 22 January vote, a new poll suggests he has been losing ground since Lieberman was indicted on anti-trust charges this month and forced to step down as foreign minister.

A poll conducted by Dialog gives 35 of parliament’s 120 seats to Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu list, down from 39 in the previous Dialog survey. The centrist Labor party polled second, with 17 seats.

The poll shows a continued surge by the rightwing Jewish Home party. Its leader, Naftali Bennett, stirred up a storm last week by saying he would resist evacuating settlements if ordered to do so as a reserves soldier.

The issue of Israel’s illegal settlements has come to be a lightning-rod issue in the elections, even as Israel has faced mounting pressure to halt settlement expansion.

The latest wave of approvals followed a vote in the UN’s general assembly to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to observer status at the United Nations despite US and Israeli opposition.

With some critics of Israeli settlement policy arguing that the latest approvals mark the death knell for the two-state solution, it has emerged that some members of Netanyahu’s own party are also pushing for him to remove his commitment to a future Palestinian state from his election platform.

Netanyahu signed up to the two-state solution in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, but senior officials from his party, who spoke anonymously to Haaretz, told the paper he was facing increasing pressure to abandon that position.

“Dividing the land will bring about Israel’s destruction,” one senior Likud official told the newspaper. “We’ve said that in the past and we say it today. How does this sit with recognising a Palestinian state?”

A second senior party official added: “Likud’s platform to date has not recognised the establishment of a Palestinian state, and Yisrael Beiteinu rejects outright the possibility that a Palestinian state could be established alongside Israel.”

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