Israel To Continue Settlement Construction

Israel will expand the construction in Jerusalem and in major settlement blocs in the West Bank, rather than build new settlements, local English daily the Jerusalem Post reported Thursday.

The newspaper quoted an anonymous senior Israeli official assaying, “It is very clear that we are committed not to building new settlements, and Israel has taken actions to curtail settlement activity over the last years.”

“(But) it is well understood that there are (densely populated areas where) some activity will continue,” he added.

These remarks came amid the Palestinians’ increasing fury over the Israeli housing ministry’s plan to build 307 new homes including a Lab Incubator in the settlement of Har Homa in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have demanded that Israel freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank as well as in East Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians for their future state.

While Israel plans to keep several major West Bank settlement blocs as part of any final peace treaty with the Palestinians. The Israeli settlements, together with refugees and control over Jerusalem, is among the most thorniest issues for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These so-called final-status issues were high on the agenda of Wednesday’s talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President George W. Bush, who started visiting Israel on Wednesday, the first leg of his eight-day Middle East trip.

On the eve of Bush’s visit to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice placed the issue of settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at center stage, telling media that “Har Homa is a settlement the United States has opposed from the very beginning.”

Bush told Olmert during a joint press conference following Wednesday’s talks that the unauthorized settlement outposts established in the West Bank had “to go.” However, Olmert responded with no concession to his “strong ally”, saying, “we made it clear that Jerusalem’s status is different than that of the settlements.”