Tovah Lazaroff
The Jerusalem Post
February 23, 2012 - 1:00am

The United States, the Palestinian Authority and the UN on Wednesday condemned Israeli plans to authorize the Shvut Rachel outpost and 180 homes in the Shiloh settlement.

Both adjacent communities are located in the Binyamin region of the West Bank.

US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said continued settlement activity harmed peace prospects, when quizzed by reporters at the daily press briefing in Washington. He added that he had not known of the Shiloh plans.

“We don’t believe [settlement activity is] in any way constructive to getting both sides back to the negotiating table,” Toner said.

“We want to see, clearly, a comprehensive settlement that delineates borders and resolves many of these issues,” he added.

Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat slammed the Shiloh plans in an interview from Cairo with Voice of Palestine radio.

"Once again the Israeli government has chosen settlement expansion over peace,” Erekat said.

Israel is responsible for dooming the efforts of the international community to advance the peace process, he said.

“We call on the international community and in particular the Quartet to hold Israel accountable [for its actions],” Erekat said.

He made his statements after the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria’s Higher Planning Council on Wednesday advanced zoning plans for Shiloh and Shvut Rachel.

The settlement was founded in 1979 and is home to 2,200 people. But according to Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, 180 homes in the settlement are unauthorized.

In addition, Ofran said, there are 93 unauthorized homes in the adjacent Shvut Rachel outpost, which was founded in 1991.

Final approval of a zoning plan for both for the settlement and the outpost would retroactively legalize all existing homes in the two communities.

In 2011, Peace Now filed separate petitions against what it called "illegal" construction in Shiloh and Shvut Rachel.

The petition did not address then-completed structures, but rather foundations that had been laid for 20 new housing units in Shvut Rachel and 28 in Shiloh, according to Ofran.

In the interim, the Shiloh homes have been completed, she said. In November, the state said that it planned to retroactively legalize those homes and the ones in Shvut Rachel through the approval of proper zoning plans.

The Defense Ministry’s settlement adviser, Eitan Broshi, said that the Higher Planning Council’s actions on Wednesday were part of that process.

He clarified that the council’s actions on Wednesday moved the plans to the next level in the bureaucratic process, but that it could still take several months before the plans received final approval.

Broshi took issue with Peace Now’s designation of the construction as illegal, and with the description of Shvut Rachel as an outpost, although it was classified as such in the report which attorney Talia Sasson presented to the government in 2005.

“Shvut Rachel is a neighborhood of the Shiloh settlement,” he said.

The new zoning plan, he said, corrects a technical problem for homes in Shiloh, including in the Shvut Rachel neighborhood, that do not have all the proper paperwork.

All the homes in question were built on state land and should be authorized, Broshi said.

But Peace Now has said that authorization of Shvut Rachel would be tantamount to the creation of a new settlement, breaking a pledge by Israel to the international community.

Peace Now also objects to the zoning plan, which zones the area for an additional 515 new homes in Shiloh and Shvut Rachel.

If these homes are authorized, it would double the size of both communities, Ofran said.

“The government is giving a prize to building violators and continuing the system by which every time the settlers build without permits, the government approves the construction and allows them even more construction,” Peace Now said.

“[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu is burying the two-state solution and turning an illegal outpost into a settlement with thousands of residents deep in the West Bank,” Peace Now said.

But Broshi said that approval of the zoning plane would not authorize new construction.

Additional Defense Ministry approvals were needed to advance any new construction outlined in the zoning plans, he said.

He stressed that that authorization of the zoning plans affected only those homes that had already been built or for which foundations had already been laid.

The Palestinians oppose all Israeli settlement activity, and insist that they will only engage in direct, formal negotiations with Israel if it halts Jewish building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Israel has called for direct talks without pre-conditions.

But Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said, said that the Shiloh plans were “deplorable and move us further away from the goal of a two-state solution.”

He noted that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had chastised Israel for such activity during his visit earlier this month.

“The secretary-general reiterated the UN’s well-known position that settlement activity is illegal, contrary to Israel’s obligations under the road map and will not be recognized by the international community.”


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