Yair Altman
April 4, 2011 - 12:00am

The Jerusalem Municipality approved Monday the construction of 942 homes in the neighborhood of Gilo, ahead of a meeting between President Shimon Peres and US leaders.

The announcement came after settler leaders expressed criticism of the government's new zoning plan for West Bank settlements, which doesn't include Itamar and other settlements.

The plans will next have to be approved by the planning and construction committee. The neighborhood is by consensus considered within Israeli territory, but construction there has previously spurred US and international criticism.

"Citizens residing in Judea and Samaria are not second class citizens," Shomron Regional Council head Gershon Mesika said Monday of the state's new zoning plan.

On Sunday the state said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak green-lighted a construction plan for the settlements of Nofim in the West Bank, Rotem, Hemda and Eshkolot Sansana in the Jordan Valley. This effectively enables the continued development of settlements.

Mesika said in response there was no difference between Itamar, which was built by the government, and Nofim. "There are five additional communities in the Shomron Regional Council including Itamar. During these trying times the defense minister continues to politically abuse the residents' daily lives. The government shares in the responsibility."
He claimed the plan's approval was only a partial amendment and blamed Barak for being motivated by political and partisan considerations. "We call on the prime minister to exercise control and approve all outline plans halted over political reasons.

"The citizens living in Judea and Samaria are not second class citizens; if the state can call them to serve in the army, it needs to also grant them all the right given to other citizens," he said

'Disgrace to Israel'

Shomron Settlers' Committee head Benny Katzover said he is not surprised by Netanyahu and Barak's move. "Hundreds of other construction plans get blocked at the political level, which goes against all basic civil and democratic rights and is a disgrace to the history of the State of Israel.

"It's sad that we have reached a situation in which approving new zoning plans is an unusual event. It is an elementary thing that each citizen in the country deserves. We will continue to fight until all the communities in Judea and Samaria get equal treatment as other towns in Israel," Katsover said.

Construction in the settlement (iIlustration photo: Reuters)

Meanwhile, officials at Yesha Council lauded the prime minister and defense minister's decision to approve the zoning plan for the settlement.

"The government established them and sent the settlers out there based on an official policy. Therefore the government should finish regulating the zoning process for all settlements," said a spokesperson for the council.

Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer claimed the move hinders efforts to restart the peace process with the Palestinians.

"Barak and Netanyahu continue to surrender to the demands of the settlers on the expense of the country's interests," he said.

"While the world is preparing to recognize a Palestinian state, the Israeli leadership continues to sell its soul in favor of expanding the settlements and torpedoing the chances of a future peace arrangement," he added.


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