Israel ramps up settlement construction plans after Palestine UNESCO bid

The Israeli government must halt plans to expand construction in illegal settlements in the West Bank and stop proposals to suspend the transfer of taxes to the Palestinian Authority, Amnesty International said today. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to accelerate construction in settlements in East Jerusalem and major settlement blocs in the West Bank on Tuesday.The Israeli government has also said it intends to freeze monthly transfers of tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The new moves came after the UN cultural organization UNESCO admitted Palestine as a member on Monday. “By announcing these plans, the Israeli government appears to be responding to the Palestinian Authority’s recent bids for international recognition by entrenching illegal settlements,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.  “These moves are unacceptable and could result in further violations of the rights to adequate housing and livelihoods in Palestinian communities near the settlements. Suspending the transfer of tax revenues will directly affect the Palestinian Authority’s ability to provide essential services throughout the West Bank, as well as salaries and other support provided to people in Gaza.”The UNESCO membership bid was part of a major diplomatic effort by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to secure wider recognition of a Palestinian state and an upgraded status at the UN.While UNESCO’s decision to grant Palestinian membership had wide international support, the US government joined Israel in opposing the move and subsequently cut its funding of the UN body. The Israeli plans announced yesterday include the construction of 2,000 housing units in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Gush Etzion bloc. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office stated that these areas “will, under any future agreement, remain part of Israel,” Israeli authorities also announced they intend to stop the transfer of revenue collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, a move that effectively suspends salaries for public workers in the West Bank. This could jeopardize Palestinians’ access to essential services, including health and education.The move follows announcements in October on settlement construction in Gilo and plans for a new settlement called Givat Hamatos. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for an immediate end to the construction and expansion of settlements and related infrastructure in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Israeli government violates international law by establishing and retaining civilian settlements in the territories. When an occupying power has a formal policy of transferring parts of its civilian population onto occupied territory, it amounts to a war crime, and can be taken up for investigation by the International Criminal Court. Israel’s settlement policy is also inherently discriminatory and perpetuates violations against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including infringing their rights to adequate housing, water and livelihoods.“Far from expediting construction in settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities must immediately halt this expansion as a first step towards removing illegal Israeli settlements from the Occupied Palestinian Territories once and for all,” said Philip Luther. “The Quartet and in particular the USA should urge Israel to stop its settlement policy.”