Israels West Bank plans spark U.S. furor, settlers ire

In a one-two punch last week, the Israeli government obeyed a Supreme Court order to remove buildings from the outskirts of the Beit El settlement and then announced construction plans for some 850 new units in Beit El and several other areas of the West Bank.

The latter action drew a sharp rebuke from the United States and elsewhere.

Jewish settlers protest June 6 against evictions. photo/ap-oded balilty

“Israel is a democracy that observes the law, and as prime minister I am obligated to preserve the law and preserve the settlements. And I say here that there is no contradiction between the two,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

In a June 6 Knesset vote, lawmakers voted against a measure to recognize settlement outposts. The legislation would have retroactively legalized buildings built on contested land if the owner did not challenge the construction within four years.

A deadline to evacuate five apartment buildings — home to about 30 families in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El — was set for July 1.

As the settlement movement quickly geared up to fight the evacuation, Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias said that 300 housing units were promised to Beit El in exchange for relocating the apartment buildings. He also said that he would approve 551 more units in other West Bank outposts.

The Obama admin-istration “does not accept the legitimacy” of the plans for new housing, the State Department said. The building activity “un-dermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

Two days after the June 6 vote, what was described  as a “price tag attack” — a strategy that extremist settlers have adopted — was undertaken in a Palestinian neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. Car tires were slashed, and graffiti such as “Death to Arabs” and “Revenge for Ulpana” was written on cars and buildings. — jta & ap