Israel plans new settlement expansion, as Jordan warns that peace with Israel could be 'in danger' over Israeli policy in the West Bank and al-Aqsa
Plans for 1,060 new settlement units in Jerusalem were approved by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday morning.
The settlement expansion will see 400 new houses added to the Har Homa block north of Bethlehem, and 660 to the northern East Jerusalem block of Ramat Shlomo, which already houses some 20,000 Israeli settlers.
The announcement comes at a time of rising tensions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In recent weeks, there have been almost daily clashes between West Bank Palestinians and Israeli troops over the flashpoint issues of settlement expansion and restrictions at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam and among the most sensitive locations of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, will vote next month on controversial proposals to divide the site, opening the door for Jewish prayers to take place within the compound.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent an urgent message to the US administration on Sunday, warning that the proposed measures could lead to a “wide-reaching explosion.”
He called on the US, whose Secretary of State John Kerry has taken an active role in recent peace talks between Israel and Palestine, to halt Israeli escalations in East Jerusalem and the what he called violations by Israeli settlers.
Settlers, who say the site - known as Temple Mount to Jews - is the former location of two ancient Jewish temples, have entered the site on numerous occasions, often accompanied by Israeli security forces.
In September 2000, a visit to the site by Israeli leader Ariel Sharon sparked the "Second Intifada" – a popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in which an estimated 3,000 Palestinians and 900 Israelis were killed.
Israeli troops run through the compound during clashes over the Holy Site on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (AFP)
Jordan-Israel peace ‘at risk’ over Israeli policy in Jerusalem
Jordan, one of the only countries in the region to have full diplomatic relations with Israel, has warned that the 20-year old peace treaty between the neighbouring states could be at risk due to planned changes to the holy site and continued settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Speaking at a celebration to mark the 20th anniversary of the peace treaty, which established diplomatic ties and settled numerous disputes between the countries over land and water, Jordan’s ambassador to Israel said that recent Israeli policy in Jerusalem violated international law.
“These actions do not comply with international humanitarian law – at the end of the day, if they are allowed to continue, the peace treaty will be put in danger.”
Jordan has previously said that it is working to prevent plans to divide the Jerusalem holy site from going ahead.
Jordan’s ambassador to Palestine, Khalid al-Shawabka, told Palestinian news channel Ma’an on 21 October that “the al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem are red lines”, and that “what is going on in Jerusalem is unacceptable.”
Shawabka said that Jordan’s foreign minister had sent “strongly-worded messages” to the foreign ministers of the UN Security Council and to the UN, “demanding an end to the systematic assaults on al-Aqsa Mosque and on worshippers.”
He was speaking in the context of a recent expansion in Israeli settlement plans, which saw Israel face international criticism in early October over plans to build 2,600 new settler homes in the flashpoint area of occupied East Jerusalem.