Jerusalem (AFP) Oct 6, 2010
Israel's hawkish environment minister, who backs continuing Jewish settlement in the West Bank, said on Wednesday he was seeking to halt construction of a new Palestinian city over "green" concerns.
Gilad Erdan told Israel's army radio it was "a mistake" for Israel to allow the Palestinians to break ground on the massive new project to build a city called Rawabi just north of Ramallah.
Asked if he was trying to halt construction of the project, which will cost some 700 million dollars (570 million euros), until it complies with certain environmental criteria, Erdan replied: "Exactly."
"I don't like the establishment of that city. I think it was a mistake to allow it," he said, claiming that the Palestinians had no proper plans for managing sewage or other waste generated from the city, which will house some 40,000 people.
But Bashar al-Masri, head of the Bayti Real Estate Investment Co, which is jointly running the Rawabi project, denied Erdan's claims, telling AFP US-funded plans for a sewage and waste water treatment plant were well under way.
"The environment is very important to us and we are coordinating with the Americans over the sewage issue," he said, adding that three US companies were competing on a contract for a waste water treatment plant that would serve Rawabi and the surrounding villages.
"Rawabi is well planned and we are ready for any investigation into what we do," he said.
Erdan, a hardliner from the right-wing Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made no secret of his disapproval of the huge construction project.
"At a political level, I don't like the idea (that they are building) in territories over which there is a dispute about ownership and sovereignty," he said.
"On one hand, they are building thousands of housing units, while on the other side, every stone that is moved creates a scandal," he said, referring to the furore that erupted last week when Jewish settlers began building after the expiry of a 10-month freeze on West Bank construction.
The end of the moratorium is threatening to torpedo peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which resumed on September 2.
"But let's put that to one side," Erdan said, insisting he did not want to mix environmental issues with politics.
"I have turned to the defence minister (Ehud Barak) and the civil administration and said: 'OK, this train has already got under way, and this city will be built but let's demand at the very least that it doesn't damage the environment'," he said.
The civil administration is the Israeli military body that runs civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank.
Although Rawabi is being built in Area A, which is governed by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, the roads connecting it to Ramallah and the surrounding area run through Area C, which is under complete Israeli military control.
During a tour of the construction site on Tuesday, Erdan told reporters that if questions over sewage, water and waste disposal were not resolved, he would seek to have access roads to the site cut off, effectively freezing construction, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Developers involved in the project have sought permission for the access roads leading to Rawabi to be rezoned, the paper said.
Although the developers were not obliged to show their environmental assessment to the Israeli environment ministry, they did so following pressure from the civil admininistration, it added.
Work on the project, the largest of its kind in the occupied Palestinian territories, began in January and is being carried out by the Bayti Real Estate Investment Co and Qatar's Diar Real Estate Co.
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Israel PM convenes inner forum ahead of key Arab summit
Jerusalem (AFP) Oct 5, 2010
Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday convened ministers in his inner circle but his office denied widespread press reports that they debated extending the West Bank settlement freeze. Israeli media said the meeting was to focus on the issue of a 60-day extension of the settlement freeze in exchange for a US deal offering security and other guarantees, details of which were leaked by a US ... read more
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