Tayseer Khaled, a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO, raised concerns about the early Israeli elections, which are utilized by Benjamin Netanyahu as a launching pad for a massive settlement plan in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. The Israeli government is also implementing a large-scale construction plan to expand the Efrat settlement toward Bethlehem, which will siege the city. The establishment of this new settlement requires the construction of new roads and infrastructures. 14 ministries will be involved with the plan and allocate funds from their budgets to support it.
This plan is an extension of a large-scale settlement project that the Israeli government has been preparing for years. The Israeli army has confiscated 1700 dunums of private land in 2009 from the citizens in the region, in order to expand the Gush Etzion settlement. By confiscating land and treating it as ‘state land’, the Israeli authorities aim to build 2,500 housing units. This project comes as part of Netanyahu’s efforts to win the votes from the Israeli right-wing. The expansion of Efrat is called E2 plan, similar to the E1 plan in East Jerusalem, which aims to connect Jerusalem with the settlement of Maale Adumim and to completely isolate Jerusalem from its Palestinian surroundings.
Tayseer Khaled stressed that it is clear the Israeli government is working at a high speed, especially in the sight of the early Knesset election. It is accelerating the process of constructing settlements and approving additional settlement schemes, in order to tighten control over the Palestinian land in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. The Israelis plan to build 2,500 more settlement units near the Efrat settlement, south of Bethlehem. In addition to the Har Homa settlement on the north of the city, Bethlehem will not be able to expand to either its north or south.
Once the 2,500 additional settlement units are built, Efrat will be qualified as a city. There are already four other settlements classified as Israeli cities: Elit (south of Jerusalem), Betar Illit (south of Jerusalem and west of Bethlehem) (East Jerusalem) and Ariel (south of Nablus and north of Jerusalem).
In response to a question about Israel’s settlement activity after the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States, Tayseer Khaled stated that the settlement activity has increased by several times with the Trump administration, according to the data from Israeli organizations. “The settlement construction activity increased by 2.5 times to 6712 units in the first 9 months of 2018 comparing to 2016, which is the highest level since 2002.”
According to the National bureau for Land Defense and Settlement Resistance, 87% of the new housing units will be built in “isolated” areas – outside the existing settlement blocs. Thousands of units are being planned on the east of the separation wall and a few hundreds on the west. 121 housing units are planned in the settlement of Yitzhar, south of Nablus, which is considered a stronghold of the ultra-right settlers. In addition, there will be two industrial zones near the settlements of Avni Hefts and Betar Illit. There is another plan calling for the establishment of a new settlement near the “Mishneh Danny” outpost, in the form of an internal educational institution.
In his response to the question on the national strategy to confront the threat of Israeli settlement, Tayseer Khaled said, “Unfortunately, there is no national strategy against the threat of settlements, an imminent threat to the unity of the national territory and to the Palestinian national presence. What we have are policies that deal with settlements that succeed here and fail there. There are sporadic field battles in which citizens offer sacrifices in defense of the Palestinian land. This is an incorrect situation and needs to be changed, so that a national strategy can be developed.”
“I do not underestimate the importance of the peaceful popular resistance against the settlements taking place in more than one place in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. There are excellent examples of steadfastness against occupation in Bil’in, Ni’lin, Ma’asara, Azzun, Atzmeh Atmeh, Kafr Qaddum, Burin, Auref, Asira, Qaryut, Jalud, Qasrah, Jureish, Eastern Lebban and many others where the citizens fight their battles and make sacrifices worthy of appreciation and respect. It is a constitution of the First Intifada in 1987 in terms of wide participation, and is inspired by the Al Aqsa Uprising in July 2017, which forced the occupation to step back on its decision.”
“In terms of Israel, we need freedom from the restrictions of the agreements signed between two sides, beginning with the Oslo Accords and ending with the Paris Protocol.”