Peace Now, an NGO that monitors Israeli settlement expansion, has reported that Israel has approved more than 1,100 new settlement homes in the West Bank. The move is the latest set of settlements to be built by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s government.
The approvals were given on Wednesday by a defence ministry committee with authority over settlement construction.
Three hundred and fifty-two homes received final approval, while the others are at an earlier stage in the process, Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, which monitors settlement building, told AFP.
A total of 1,122 housing units were advanced, including seven already existing homes given retroactive approval.
According to Mr. Ofran, the majority of the approvals are for settlements deep in the West Bank that Israel would probably need to evacuate as part of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s a part of the general trend that the government is doing, which is to build all over the West Bank, even more in places that Israel would need to evict, and in this way to torpedo the possibility for a two-state solution,” she said.
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said Israel “continues with its plan to bury all the chances of a political settlement”, while alleging that it is being “encouraged” by U.S. President Donald Trump‘s administration.
A shooting that killed an Israeli settler on Tuesday in the West Bank led to new calls for further settlement building, though the plans approved on Wednesday were already in the works.
According to Peace Now, 6,742 housing projects were approved in the settlements last year, the highest figure since 2013.
Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major obstacles to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Prominent members of Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing government openly oppose Palestinian statehood.
Israel faced sharp criticism from the administration of former US president Barack Obama over settlement construction, but that has not been the case with Trump’s White House and Israeli officials have sought to take advantage.
European nations have maintained their strong opposition to settlement building, and France on Thursday condemned the latest Israeli approvals.
A French foreign ministry spokesman reiterated the country’s call for a freeze on settlement building.
“France’s priority is to work to preserve the two-state solution and to contribute to a resumption of decisive negotiations,” the spokesman said.
The UN envoy for the Middle East peace process also condemned the approvals, saying “settlement-related activities undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-state solution”.
“They entrench a one-state reality that is incompatible with realising the national aspirations of both peoples,” Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement.
Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6 sparked Palestinian anger and led president Mahmud Abbas to say Washington could no longer play any role in the peace process.
Sporadic unrest since then has cost the lives of 14 Palestinians, most killed in clashes with Israeli forces.
The settler shot dead on Tuesday night, Raziel Shevah, 35, was the first Israeli killed since Trump’s announcement, though it was unclear if there was any link.
U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, a supporter of West Bank settlements, said on Twitter after the murder: “An Israeli father of six was killed last night in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists.”
“Hamas praises the killers and Palestinian Authority’s laws will provide them financial rewards. Look no further to why there is no peace.”
The Palestinian foreign ministry in response accused Mr. Friedman of a “prejudiced” stance on the conflict, saying he has yet to criticise Israel for settlement building or its 50-year occupation of the West Bank.
Israeli authorities have been searching for the attackers behind the settler’s shooting near the major Palestinian city of Nablus in the northern West Bank.
Roadblocks have been set up in the Nablus area.
At the victim’s funeral on Wednesday at the wildcat settlement of Havat Gilad where he lived, there were calls for “revenge” during a speech by Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the far-right Jewish Home party.
Bennett responded by saying that the only revenge should be in building more settlements.