Israel has advanced plans to build nearly 1,000 more homes for settlers in occupied territory in East Jerusalem, brushing aside international objections, as polls showed far-right elements gaining strength ahead of next month’s elections.
The interior ministry said a government planning committee had moved a project for 942 units in the settlement district of Gilo to an advanced stage, part of a wave of 6,000 housing approvals over the past week in the East Jerusalem area that Palestinians envisage as capital of their future state. The new step enables contractors to submit bids.
About 12,000 units have been approved since the Palestinians attained UN recognition as a state last month, in a punitive drive aimed partly at impressing right-wing voters.
The latest poll, published yesterday, is expected to deal a further blow to prospects for a two-state solution with the Palestinians. It showed prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on track to gain easy re-election, with 67 seats in the 120-member Knesset going to the right-wing bloc headed by his Likud-Beiteinu list.
The ardently pro-settler Jewish Home party, led by former hi-tech entrepreneur Naftali Bennett, is projected to win 13 seats, up from 11 early this month. Jewish Home is against the two-state solution, instead favouring immediate annexation of most of the occupied West Bank, viewed by the international community as the heartland of a future Palestinian state.
Analysts believe the prognosis for jump-starting the stalled peace talks is bleak, especially if the United States continues to remain on the sidelines.
Leslie Susser, political editor of Jerusalem Report magazine, said: “Especially if Netanyahu goes into a coalition with Bennett, it would be difficult to see him move on the Palestinian track. He’d have to really show great leadership. Until now, he hasn’t been close to showing great leadership.”
Mr Netanyahu indicated recently that a decision by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to allow rallies in Palestinian self-rule enclaves in the West Bank by the militant Hamas movement, which calls for Israel’s destruction, showed he was not interested in peace. The number two on Mr Netanyahu’s electoral list, Avigdor Lieberman, has called for Mr Abbas to be removed from power, saying he engages in “diplomatic terrorism’’ against Israel.
Mr Netanyahu says he is ready to resume negotiations if the Palestinians drop their demand for a settlement freeze.
While he gave qualified endorsement to the idea of a two-state solution three years ago, questions about his present and future commitment to it are intensifying now that his party is drawing up a joint electoral platform with Mr Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party. Education minister Gideon Saar, a Netanyahu ally and number three on the joint list, said on Monday that the election platform would not mention a two-state solution. Analysts estimate 28 of the top 30 politicians on the joint list are against the idea.
Danny Danon, a Likud MP, said: “There is no partner at the moment and I do not want a terrorist state in our backyard.”
Centrist candidate Tzipi Livni, who supports a two-state solution to spare Israel from international isolation and from ruling over the Palestinians, has been campaigning on the promise she can bring a peace agreement. Voting for Mr Netanyahu will lead to an ‘’international boycott’’ of Israel, her posters say.
But while Ms Livni is expected to gain a respectable ten seats according to the poll, she has not been able to reverse the overall decline in Israeli support for the two-state solution.