Netanyahu announces new Israeli settlement plans just before election


A Jewish settler raises an Israeli flag at the E1 settlement area on December 9, 2007, near the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim in the West Bank.


Uriel Sinai

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not backed down on recently announced plans to further expand Israeli settlements, after drawing strong criticism from European countries and the US.

Israel's announcement of plans to begin developing 3,000 housing units in disputed territories the day after the UN General Assembly recognized the Palestinian Authority as a "non-member observer state" prompted the UK, France, Sweden, Denmark and Spain to formally summon Israeli diplomats.

The plan defies long-standing international opposition and involves building homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

What hasn't been clear in every report, however, is that the proposed 3,000 units are nowhere close to actually getting built. Housing Minister Ariel Attias stressed that the project is still in the planning stages. "No one will build until it is clear what will be done there," Attias told Reuters on Sunday.

While Netanyahu's plans have created a diplomatic crisis for Israel, his announcement may help him domestically as he faces an election on January 22, Reuters reported.

"In Israel, it is widely assumed that Netanyahu's announcement, one day after Palestine won an upgraded status at the United Nations, was probably directed at right wing voters who will be voting for him, or for one of his competitors, on Jan. 22," GlobalPost's correspondent in Israel, Noga Tarnopolsky, wrote.

More from GlobalPost: Is Israel's West Bank expansion political suicide?

Tarnopolsky added on Tuesday, "Even if Israel will react to the international condemnation, it's not going to happen within minutes. It'll happen after the election."

She continued, "And it's important to underscore that the decision was to allow the initial planning stages of a possible new area of housing. We are talking about guys with drawing borards. We are years from any actual building permits."

There are currently other new settlements, such as 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, much closer to being realized.

Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that his government "will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places on the map of Israel's strategic interests," Reuters reported.

European Nations and even the United States hope that the plan will not happen. Building in the area "would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told Bloomberg News