Israeli officials are hoping to annex the settlements – many of which have become bedroom communities of Jerusalem – in any potential peace agreement with the Palestinians. By building more homes nearby, it becomes easier to connect West Bank settlements to Jerusalem, says Haim Erlich of Ir Amim, an Israeli organization that defines itself as working for "an equitable and stable Jerusalem with an agreed political future." The NGO argues against Israel creating "facts on the ground" in Jerusalem, saying that makes it harder to arrive at a just two-state solution with the Palestinians.
"This is the concept that Israel has very been successful with in the past. Not by putting in soldiers or walls, but houses," says Mr. Erlich, Ir Amim's coordinator of policy advocacy. He says that the plan in question, along with another private developer's proposal to build 14,000 housing units just west of Gilo in an area called Walajeh, which straddles the East Jerusalem/West Bank border – is a way to put immovable chess pieces onto the geopolitical board.
"The idea is by putting in these neighborhoods, and by connecting Har Gilo to Jerusalem, this will become one big residential area," he says. "This was part of Ariel Sharon's idea of a 'Greater Jerusalem.' "
US, Britain critical
The Obama administration has been making its opposition clear to this approach, both in meetings with Israeli officials and more publicly.
Britain has also been critical of Israel's policy, saying in a statement released by the UK's Jerusalem office that British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was disappointed by Israel's moves.