- Associated Press - Thursday, June 7, 2012

JERUSALEM — Israel’s plans to build hundreds of new homes in Jewish West Bank settlements have put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at odds again with Washington and the Palestinians, without appeasing settlers furious over the government’s plan to dismantle an illegally built settler enclave.

Engineers, meanwhile, questioned the government’s plan to physically uproot the five apartment buildings that make up the Ulpana enclave, saying it would be a colossal waste of money and likely doomed to fail.

Mr. Netanyahu, an ardent settlement champion, has proposed that plan to avert the spectacle of settlement homes being demolished on his watch.

Officials announced Wednesday that the government would build 850 apartments in various West Bank settlements after parliament, at Mr. Netanyahu’s urging, voted down a bill that would have legalized Ulpana and other settler outposts built illegally on privately held Palestinian land.

The international community condemns settlement construction, and the Palestinians have refused to talk peace while Israel builds on land they claim for a future state.

Mr. Netanyahu found himself in the politically difficult position of having to carry out a Supreme Court ruling ordering the 30 apartments in Ulpana destroyed by July 1.

Knowing it would not stand up to the court’s scrutiny, he pressured coalition lawmakers Wednesday to vote down a proposal by hard-line legislators to legalize outposts built on privately held Palestinian land.

To blunt the blow to settlers, he vowed to build 300 more homes in the authorized settlement of Beit El, on whose outskirts Ulpana lies.

Israel is a democracy that observes the law, and as prime minister I am obligated to preserve the law and preserve the settlements. And I say here that there is no contradiction between the two,” he said Wednesday after the vote.

Later, Construction Minister Ariel Attias announced that an additional 551 apartments would be built elsewhere in the West Bank.

“Thirty apartments will be evacuated, but 850 will be built instead,” said Mr. Attias. “Under the circumstances, this is a worthy solution.”

The Beit El announcement, the first new construction to be approved by the government in half a year, is largely symbolic. The construction could be years away, since a lengthy planning process is required before any building can begin, officials say.

Hagit Ofran of the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now said the remaining units appear to have already been planned long ago. Israel builds about 2,000 housing units in the West Bank each year, and she said the newly announced plans would not change that pace.

Even so, the Palestinians and the U.S. harshly condemned the new construction as a sign of bad faith.

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