As Israeli justice minister, Tzipi Livni, met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome on Wednesday, the Israel Civil Administration approved a plan to build 296 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beit El; an Israeli newspaper reported.
The newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, today described the decision as “A move which could be interpreted as an attempt to Judaize the West Bank.”
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon approved the construction of the new housing units in line with a promise the government had made to settlers. A previous Israeli government had promised to build 90 new housing units in the settlements in an attempt to prevent clashes during the eviction of the Ulpana settlement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously made undertakings to stop further settlement construction until next June when he met with Kerry, angering heads of settler groups.
According to the newspaper, Ya’alon met with heads of Jewish settlers on Tuesday and told them that construction would indeed continue. Netanyahu confirmed that there were delays in issuing construction bids due to errors, but that they would be issued soon.
Settlers hoped that the approval of new housing units would mean the beginning of further settlement plans in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
In Rome, Livni hoped that “enthusiastic and determined” Kerry would move the peace process forward after four years of stalemate.
“We believe that re-launching the negotiations and achieving an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is in the Israeli interest, but yet there is a need for Secretary John Kerry’s efforts to create something new after four years of stagnation,” Livni said.
Kerry has been holding talks with Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab officials for months. The Israeli newspaper said that he is expected to meet Netanyahu and Abbas separately later in May.
The US Secretary of State said, “I think it is fair to say that we are working through threshold questions and we are doing it with a seriousness of purpose, which I think Minister Livni would agree with, has not been present for a while.”
Stressing the importance of achieving something as soon as possible Livni said, “We all believe that we are working with a short time span. We understand the imperative to try to have some sense of direction as rapidly as we can.”
Kerry has been mobilizing Arab support for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in case he is obliged to offer concessions to Israelis in order to reach a peace deal. Kerry also hopes to set up foundations for a wider peace with the Arab states.
Recently, he achieved a diplomatic victory when the Arab league delegation in Washington announced an agreement to accept that a land swap deal could be reached between Palestinians and Israelis based on the 1967 borders.