Following the approval of over 1,000 new settlement buildings in the West Bank, and 650 in East Jerusalem, the Israeli municipal government for the city of Jerusalem approved on Wednesday the construction of an additional 130 units in Gilo settlement, near Bethlehem.The approved units include three twelve-story apartment buildings in the illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo, as well as tourist centers in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, where Palestinian residents have faced a campaign of forced removal over the last two years.
Gilo settlement is constructed on stolen Palestinian land on a hilltop next to Beit Jala, part of the Bethlehem municipality. But Israeli authorities consider the settlement to be part of the Jerusalem municipality. It is located at the southern end of a ring of settlements meant to expand the edges of east Jerusalem and to completely cut off the Palestinian territory from the city of Jerusalem.
The new settlement apartment buildings will overlook the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, considered a sacred site to Christians around the world, but currently inaccessible due to the Israeli Annexation Wall.
Fakhri Abu Diab, of the Silwan Defense Committee, pointed out that the planned tourism centers in Silwan neighborhood are part of a plan articulated by Israeli officials several years ago to clear the neighborhood of its indigenous Palestinian residents, and construct a biblical-themed amusement park for international tourists. He told Reuters news service that the Israeli-approved project “was planned under the umbrella of tourism. [It] does not serve the residents here but it serves the organizations of the settlers and the occupation.’
Despite the Israeli government’s approval of the new settlement units, all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, and are violations of signed agreements made with the Palestinian Authority.
After the majority of members of the United Nations Security Council issued statements last week condemning Israeli settlement expansion as an impediment to the peace process, Israeli officials publicly made statements that they would further expand settlements, rather than address the concerns of the international community.