Israel to build new settlement in West Bank
JERUSALEM (AP) - A key committee has approved a new Jewish settlement in the West Bank, an Israeli official said Thursday. The impending construction of Israel’s first new settlement in a decade infuriated Palestinians, who said settlement building cripples peace efforts.
The only hurdle that remains is the approval of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who signaled to the national planning committee that it should authorize the plan to build the Maskiot settlement and that he would approve it within weeks, the official said.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because the Defense Ministry did not officially announce the settlement would be built in the Jordan Valley Rift, an arid north-south strip that forms Israel’s eastern flank with Jordan. Asked why Israel was moving ahead on this politically charged plan he replied that it has been in the pipeline for years.
Israel originally announced in 2006 that it would build Maskiot, then froze the plan after it provoked an international outcry. But earlier this year, in a wildcat move, nine Israeli families settled in mobile homes at the site, which Palestinians claim as part of a future state.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of undermining U.S.-backed peace talks.
"This is destroying the process of a two-state solution," Erekat said. "I hope the Americans will make the Israelis revoke the decision. I think they can make the Israelis do this."
The U.S. Embassy had no comment. But on her last visit to the region in June, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said settlement building "has the potential to harm the negotiations."
When talks renewed last year after a seven-year breakdown, Israel promised not to establish new settlements in the West Bank. The two sides set a goal of reaching a final peace accord by the end of the year, but have since scaled back their ambitions, in part because disputes over Israeli settlement have impeded progress on peacemaking.