Israel approves thousands of settler homes in occupied West Bank

Palestinians have condemned Israel’s approval of some 3,000 new settler houses in the occupied West Bank.

An Israeli defense official said a planning forum of Israel’s liaison office with the Palestinians gave preliminary approval of plans to build 1,344 housing units and final approval for the 1,800-home construction projects, it reported Thursday. the Reuters news agency.

The Israeli NGO Peace Now also confirmed the approvals.

The approvals challenge the strongest criticism of the US President Joe Biden’s administration to date of such projects.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the international community to take a “decisive stance” on the Israeli decision.

Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, reporting from Nablus, said: “While the number of units approved at Wednesday’s meeting might not be as large as during the era of US President Donald Trump, for Palestinians a settlement unit is a unit. too”.

The decision marked the latest push for the 50-year-old Israeli settlement venture on occupied lands that Palestinians seek for a state.

Successive Israeli governments have expanded the settlements, making an internationally backed two-state solution, a state of Palestine alongside Israel, increasingly impossible.

Israel-United States friction

Abbas said the decision amounted to a “message of disdain for the efforts of the US administration.”

The administration of President Donald Trump had tolerated the growth of the settlements and abandoned the decades-long American position that the settlements were illegitimate.

Israel embarked on a wave of aggressive settlements during the Trump years, advancing plans for more than 12,000 settler homes in 2020 alone, according to Peace Now, the highest number since it began collecting data in 2012.

Wednesday’s decision is likely to create friction with Europe and the United States.

Just a day earlier, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had protested the plan during a phone call with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, according to a senior US official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Construction work underway in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

Also Tuesday, the US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” by Israel’s plans to promote new settlements, including many deep in the West Bank.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington: “We strongly oppose settlement expansion, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to reduce tensions and ensure calm and damages prospects for a settlement. two-state “.

Sabri Saidam, a former Palestinian official, criticized the Biden administration, saying it was “almost absent” as Israel moves forward with settlement construction.

The settlement’s approval also appeared poised to test Israel’s fragile ruling coalition of ultranationalists, centrists and moderate parties opposing the settlements after the 12-year rule of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Now, everyone knows that this is not a government of change, but this is a government with the same policy as Netanyahu to build more settlements, deepen the occupation and move away from the possibilities of peace,” said Hagit Ofran de Paz now .

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and occupied East Jerusalem, areas that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, for their future status.

The Palestinians view the settlements, which are home to some 700,000 Israelis, as the main obstacle to peace, and are considered illegal by most of the international community.

Israel views the West Bank, home to more than 2.5 million Palestinians, as the biblical and historical heart of the Jewish people.

Approvals Wednesday were given by the Defense Ministry’s top planning council, which authorizes the construction of the West Bank.

The committee was also supposed to approve 1,300 housing units for Palestinians living in areas of the West Bank that are under full Israeli control, outside of enclaves administered by the Palestinian Authority. The discussion moved to next week.

Palestinians and human rights groups say the 1,300 houses under discussion meet a small fraction of the need.

Palestinians need military permits to build in the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank that is under full Israeli control.

Human rights groups say permits are almost never granted, forcing many residents to build without authorization and risk demolition.

On Sunday, Israel announced construction tenders for 1,355 housing units in the West Bank, the first such move since Biden took office and vowed to take a tougher line on settlements.

It also appeared to go against promises by the new Israeli coalition government to reduce tensions with the Palestinians.

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