Monday, 5 March 2018

Palestinians warn of ‘catastrophe’ over major new Israeli settlement

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AMMAN: Palestinians fear that plans for a major new Jewish settlement will place further strain on a West Bank city already surrounded by Israel’s controversial separation wall.
Last month Israeli television revealed that three existing settlements near Qalqilya will be unified later this year. A fourth settlement is due to be added within five years, bringing together about 20,000 settlers on land that is illegally occupied under international law.
The project throws into doubt long-awaited Palestinian plans to improve and expand Qalqilya’s infrastructure, leaving residents of the most overcrowded city in the West Bank facing an uncertain future.
In response, Qalqilya Gov. Rafi Rawajba described continued Israeli settlement as “state terror.”
He called on the international community to protect the city.
“This right-wing (Israeli) government is taking away Palestinian land and using it exclusively for expanding the Jewish settlement enterprise,” he said.
Surrounded on three sides by the Israeli separation wall, Qalqilya covers an area of just over 1.5 square miles, yet is home to an estimated 53,000 residents, making it the occupied West Bank’s most densely populated city.
Palestinian officials had hoped to expand and improve the city by building 14,000 housing units, an industrial park and several playgrounds. The ambitious infrastructure project was approved by the Israeli Cabinet in 2016 following a recommendation from Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
But concerted pressure by the powerful settler movement has since caused the Israeli government to backtrack. On July 13, 2017, the Israeli cabinet decided to freeze Qalqilya’s expansion, ignoring Palestinian concerns that any pause in the development project would be a “catastrophe” and opening the way for last month’s decision to unify the settlements.
According to Israel’s Hebrew-language Channel 7, the Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has approved a plan to unite the settlements of Sheari Tikva, Etz Efraim and Elkana to the southwest of Qalqilya. A fourth settlement, Oranit, will be added in 2023, formally creating a new Israeli city in the occupied West Bank.
However, a spokesman for the Israeli movement Peace Now downplayed the impact of the settlement expansion. Brian Reeves told Arab News the expansion would reinforce the existing situation in and around Qalqilya, but not make it significantly worse.
“This decision is primarily administrative and will not give those supporting the settlement enterprise a significant advantage to confiscate land that they did not already have,” he said.
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