CAIRO - In a clear punishment for the Palestinian people following moves at the UN, Israel has approved the construction of 40 homes and a farm in two new settler enclaves near the southern West Bank town of Bethlehem, as its hawkish Prime Minister declared his support for a new law to ban loudspeakers at mosques.
Israel's military establishment has approved the establishment of a new, permanent neighborhood and a farm near the West Bank settlement of Efrat, Haaretz daily reported on Monday, December 12.
The projects will go beyond the community's current built-up area, constituting an effective expansion of the Etzion bloc of settlements toward the north and northeast, it added.
With their completion, Jewish settlement in the northern Etzion bloc will reach the edges of Bethlehem's southernmost suburbs.
The expansion of Efrat's settlement was seen as a direct result of pressures on Likud representatives to advance the building plans for Givat Hadagan.
This pressure bore fruit two months ago, after UNESCO admitted Palestine into the United Nations agency as a full member.
Approval was issued for the construction of 2,000 homes in West Bank settlements, including 277 on a third hill in Efrat, Givat Hazayit.
The decision to approve, at this stage, construction of 40 residential units at Givat Hadagan in Efrat, Gush Etzion - which is in the heart of the consensus - is a good decision but far from sufficient, Efrat Mayor Oded Ravivi told Haaretz.
We congratulated Netanyahu for it but also explained that to solve Efrat's serious housing shortage the cabinet must approve 3,000 new homes.
Announcing the expansion plans, the leftist Israeli group Peace Now blasted the hawkish government for authorizing illegal settlements.
The current government dares to go further than any of its predecessors, and systematically legalizes unauthorized outposts, Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer said.
Givat Hadagan is a symbol of illegal activity whose purpose is to expand the boundaries of the settlements without state approval. The message of the decision is clear - all illegal building [in the settlements] will be authorized, and the bosses in the territories are the local and regional council heads and the 'hillside youth,' Oppenheimer said.
There are more than 164 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, eating up more than 40 percent of the occupied West Bank.
The international community considers all settlements on the occupied land illegal.
The new settlement expansion was announced as Israeli PM Netanyahu voiced support for a law that would ban mosques from using loudspeakers to call people to prayer.
There's no need to be more liberal than Europe, Netanyahu said in reference to the law during a meeting of his Likud ministers, Haaretz reported on Monday.
The law, known as the Muezzin Law, was proposed by lawmaker Anastassia Michaeli of ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party.
Though saying it applies to all houses of worship, the law was seen as targeting Muslims as the practice is mainly prevalent in mosques.
Announcing the new bill, huge criticism followed from Israeli and Arab activists as well.
The Abraham Fund coexistence organization also denounced the bill as offensive and designed specifically to harm the rights of the Arab minority.
This deliberate insult, which has become something of a routine in the current Knesset, is designed to inhibit the freedom of religion of the Arab public, said the group's directors, Amnon Be'eri and Muhammad Darawshe, in a joint statement cited by Jerusalem Post.
Legislation in the Knesset should be the last way to deal with modes of behavior between Jews and Arabs, and only after all efforts for constructive dialogue have been exhausted.
Ahmed Tibi (Ta'al), the Arab member of Knesset, described the bill as a delusional and ridiculous proposal from the study hall of Anastasia.
Tibi confirmed that Jewish practices were also annoying and damaging to the health of Muslim population in occupied lands.
And if we're talking about the ridiculous then there's also things that disturb the equanimity of Arabs, Tibi added.
Blowing the shofar annoys residents of the Old City [of Jerusalem]; the sirens at the beginning and end of the Shabbat is another; and the worst of them, the damage done to the respiratory systems of Arabs by the fireside gatherings on Independence Day, he asserted, emphasizing that this opinion comes both as a doctor and as an Arab.