U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said at the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Brussels today that the announcement this week of new tenders for 307 new housing units to be built in the Har Homa settlement just outside Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem, did not help to build confidence between Israelis and Palestinians as a new series of negotiations is about to get underway. News reports call this a “rare U.S. criticism of Israel”.
UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon said, through a spokesperson yesterday, that the move was unhelpful.
Actually, that comment from UNSG BAN had to be prodded. In the first reaction, a deputy UN Spokesperson said at first that she had no comment. Here is the exchange, starting with a journalist’s question, as reported in a UN transcript of Thursday’s regular noon briefing:
“Question: Do you have anything to tell us on Israel building over 300 new houses in eastern Jerusalem? And whether this is a breach to the Road Map and the commitments announced in the meeting Mr. Ban Ki-moon attended in Annapolis a few days ago?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have an immediate reaction to that today.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later announced that the UN’s position on the illegality of settlement activity is well-known. These new tenders for 300 new homes in east Jerusalem, coming so soon after the renewed commitment to Road Map implementation at Annapolis, are not helpful, she said. She added that the UN will be discussing this with Quartet partners.]
It seems clear that this criticism would not have been forthcoming if the Palestinians were not cooperating with the American-backed Annapolis process of negotiations.
The growth of the Har Homa settlement on the formerly green wooded hilltop known as Jebel Abu Gheneim has been phenomenal, exponential, and inexorable, since construction started ten years ago, and accelerating recently — but the criticism and protests have been only sporadic. The land was expropriated in the early 1990s, causing an international outcry and many meetings of the UN Security Council in New York, but construction did not begin until 1997.
The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, located in Bethlehem, reports on its website that just “Between the years 2003 and 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Housing in corporation with the Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem declared 6 tenders to build an additional 2536 new illegal housing units in Har Homa settlement”.
The expansion has been very notable even this year:
ARIJ reports the following tenders for the 2536 units of new housing in Har Homa settlement since early 2003:
Date of declaration – 1/3/2003
Housing Units – 108
Date of declaration – 15/8/2003
Housing Units – 78
Date of declaration – 2/4/2004
Housing Units – 700
Date of declaration – 23/8/2004
Housing Units – 150
Date of declaration – 27/8/2005
Housing Units – 500
Date of declaration – 9/1/2007
Housing Units – 1000
As discussed in the UN Security Council in 1997 — when Benjamin Netanyahu was Israel’s Prime Minister — the Israeli plan was to build a 6,500 unit housing project in the Har Homa settlement on Jebel Abu Gheneim. See the 6 March 1997 UN press release here.
This would appear to mean that only about one-third of the planned Har Homa has so far been built
ARIJ writes that “Ten years after Har Homa (Abu Ghneim), since the construction in of Har Homa started and it never stopped once despite wide criticism. Israel continues with its policy: forcing facts on the ground … The existence of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and their expansions are Illegal and contradicts with the international law rules, United Nations Security Council Resolutions such as 237 (1967), 271 (1969), 446 (1979), 452 (1979), 465 (1980), 681 (1990), and 799 (1992). Resolution 446 March 22, 1979 calls on Israel to rescind its previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories’ Also resolution 452 of 1979 ‘calls upon the Government and people of Israel to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem’. Furthermore the Fourth Geneva Convention also states in Article 49 that ‘The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies’, and Article 174 of the same convention ‘prohibits the ‘extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly’.” This ARIJ report is posted here.
No resolution was adopted in the UN Security Council on the Har Homa settlement building, and — due to the U.S. vetoes of two draft resolutions , the matter went to a UN General Assembly Emergency Special Session, where resolutions were adopted condemning the plan and calling for an immediate halt to the construction of the settlement.