Israeli PM says he'll move ahead with Jewish settlement
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second from the right, attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013. (AP / Baz Ratner)
Published Sunday, January 13, 2013 7:59AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 13, 2013 10:41AM EST
Israel's prime minister pledged Sunday to move ahead with construction of a new Jewish settlement in a strategic part of the West Bank, speaking just hours after Israeli forces dragged dozens of Palestinian anti-settlement activists from the area.
The activists had pitched more than two dozen tents at the site on Friday, laying claim to the land and drawing attention to Israel's internationally condemned settlement policy.
Before dawn Sunday, hundreds of Israeli police and paramilitary border troops evicted the protesters. Despite the eviction, Mustafa Barghouti, one of the protest leaders, claimed success, saying the overall strategy is to "make (Israel's) occupation costly."
The planned settlement, known as E-1, would deepen east Jerusalem's separation from the West Bank, war-won areas the Palestinians want for their state. The project had been on hold for years, in part because of U.S. objections.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revived the E-1 plans late last year, in response to the Palestinians' successful bid for U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
Jewish settlements are at the heart of the current, four-year impasse in Mideast peace efforts. The Palestinians have refused to negotiate while Israel continues to build settlements on the lands they seek for their state. Netanyahu says peace talks should start without any preconditions. Netanyahu also rejects any division of Jerusalem.
Israel expanded the boundaries of east Jerusalem after the 1967 war and then annexed the area -- a move not recognized by the international community. Since then, it has built a ring of Jewish settlements in the enlarged eastern sector to cement its control over the city.
E-1 would be built in the West Bank, just east of Jerusalem, and would close one of the last options for Palestinians to create territorial continuity between Arab neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital, and the West Bank. According to building plans, E-1 would have more than 3,000 apartments.
The Palestinians say they turned to the U.N. last November out of frustration with the deadlock in peace talks. They believe the international endorsement of the 1967 lines as a baseline for talks on a future border will bolster their position in negotiations. Israel has accused the Palestinians of trying to bypass the negotiating process and impose a solution.
Netanyahu told Israel Army Radio on Sunday that it would take time to build E-1, citing planning procedures. Still, he said, "we will complete the planning, and there will be construction."
Asked why the protesters were removed, Netanyahu said: "They have no reason to be there. I asked immediately to close the area so people would not gather there needlessly and generate friction and disrupt public order."
Barghouti said the demonstrators pitched the tents on private Palestinian land and obtained an Israeli court injunction preventing the removal of the tents for several days. Barghouti said Israel declared the site a closed military area to allow for removing the activists. He alleged that troops beat some of the protesters.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld denied troops used force. He said the protesters were carried away without injuries, put onto buses and dropped off at a West Bank checkpoint.
At the next court hearing, Israel will have to explain why it wants to take down the tents, said Mohammed Nazzal, an official in a department of the Palestinian self-rule government involved in the legal proceedings. Rosenfeld said he believes one of the issues in the hearing will be the status of the land.
About half a million Israelis live in the dozens of settlements that dot the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Over the past 15 years, Jewish settlers have also set up dozens of rogue settlement outposts, without formal approval, and critics say the government has done little to remove them.