As Kerry meets with Abbas, W. Bank housing advances

An Israeli committee approved the construction of new West Bank housing on the same day that Secretary of State John Kerry was in Jordan trying to jump-start the moribund Arab-Israeli peace process.

The settlement subcommittee of the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration, the body that oversees governance of the West Bank, on July 17 approved the building of 732 apartments in Modi’in Ilit, located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and 19 in Kfar Adumim. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon must approve the construction.

Deliberations on more than 300 housing units for several isolated West Bank settlements were postponed at the request of Yaalon, the daily Haaretz reported.

Kerry was in Jordan this week as part of his ongoing bid to encourage peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It was his sixth trip to the Middle East in as many months.

On July 17 he met in Amman with officials from the Arab League and secured their backing for a resumption of negotiations based on the 2002 Arab-Israeli peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia, according to the Associated Press.

In a statement released after the meeting, the Arab delegates said they supported Kerry’s initiative, which, “constitute a good ground and suitable environment for restarting the negotiations, especially the new and important political, economic and security elements.”

That same day Kerry also met with Abbas, who was to brief the Palestine Liberation Organization on the talks July 18.

Abbas has refused to negotiate unless Israel halts all construction in West Bank settlements. Israel has refused, saying negotiations should resume without conditions. Kerry has offered the Palestinians a package of economic incentives to restart the talks.

On July 16, Israeli leaders condemned a European Union ban on funding to Israeli institutions that operate in occupied territories, but acknowledged Israel’s growing isolation over its construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The move dominated Israeli newscasts throughout the day and prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to summon senior Cabinet ministers for consultations.

“We will not accept any external edicts about our borders,” Netanyahu said.

In a statement, the EU’s mission to Israel said the new funding guidelines were approved June 30 and will apply to “grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU from 2014 onwards.” The guidelines are “in conformity with the EU’s longstanding position that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law,” the statement said, “irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law.” — jta & ap