Israel defies US with plan for 240 new homes on Palestinian land

From The Guardian (UK), 23rd June 2009. Rory McCarthy, Jerusalem (more details).

• Ehud Barak approved construction in West Bank
• Scheme cuts farmers’ access to land, say critics

Israel’s defence ministry has proposed legalising 60 existing homes at a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, and building another 240 homes at the site, despite US calls for a halt to settlement growth.

Construction at the outpost, known as Water Reservoir Hill, near the Talmon settlement, north of Ramallah, would “greatly damage” the freedom of movement of Palestinian farmers in the area, according to Bimkom, an Israeli planning rights group.

It said the construction plan was put forward for public inspection shortly after the Israeli government was formed this spring and was first approved by Ehud Barak, the defence minister. It was now awaiting final approval.

But Bimkom added: “In virtually all cases, plans deposited for Israeli settlements were subsequently approved.”

The Israeli government insisted the homes were part of old proposals. “These houses have been completed, and there has been no approval given for new houses,” one official said.

The plan, which follows a pattern over many years of settlement growth, appears to challenge directly Barack Obama’s administration, which has issued several clear calls for an end to the practice.

So far, Israel has resisted Washington’s pressure for a halt to construction in settlements and the issue is fast becoming a test of wills between the two governments. In an interview yesterday Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said arguing about settlement activity was a waste of time. Last week, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, told Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor ­Lieberman, that Washington wanted “to see a stop to the settlements”.

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