Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who heads the left-wing flank of the coalition government, approved on Monday the construction of 277 more apartments in Ariel, located in central Samaria.
The announcement furthers Israel’s unofficial policy that in any future Palestinian Authority state, Israel will surrender most of Judea and Samaria but not Ariel and other large Jewish population centers.
Ariel, located several miles east of metropolitan Tel Aviv, is home to more than 18,000 Jews and a fast-growing university. Approximately 100 of the new apartments in Ariel are to house victims of the expulsion of Jews from Gaza in 2005.
The announcement of another 277 apartments is bound to draw criticism from the Palestinian Authority, the European Union and the Obama administration, all of whom demand that Israel work toward eliminating any Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, as well in large parts of Jerusalem, to satisfy PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ conditions for creating the Palestinian Authority as a new Arab state.
Last week, Israel announced advancement in the lengthy bureaucratic process to build 1,600 new homes for Jews in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, claimed by the Palestinian Authority. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the announcement "threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution" and "undermines ongoing efforts to resume negotiations."
However, several PA officials have admitted in Arab media that the PA rejects the “two-state solution” and sees itself as including approximately a million and a half Arabs holding Israeli citizenship.
Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, and chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat recently wrote to the United Nations that the building projects in Ramat Shlomo as well in Har Homa, in southern Jerusalem, “are illegal.”
The United States government has accepted the PA position almost since the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, when Judea, Samaria and Gaza and all of Jerusalem were restored to Israel.
President Barack Obama, since taking office two years ago, has called the Jewish presence in these areas, including Jerusalem, “illegitimate” and has labeled large Jewish neighborhoods in eastern, southern and northern Jerusalem as “settlements.