Minister says there are plans for 2,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in Palestinian territories
Israel is preparing to resume settlement building in the occupied West Bank after a hiatus of almost a year, the country’s defence minister has said.
A planning council committee is expected to meet next week to approve 2,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territories, Benny Gantz said on Wednesday, as well as about 1,000 units for Palestinians living in the West Bank’s Area C, which is under Israeli military control.
The anticipated approval of new settlement homes would be the first issued by the government of the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, since his cross-partisan coalition ousted Benjamin Netanyahu two months ago. It comes after a 10-month unofficial pause in settlement building believed to be related to the change of administration in the US.
The plan to allow Palestinian construction in Area C is also the largest in years, after several other Israeli-promoted projects stalled.
The unusual combination of settlement approvals, together with Palestinian permits, appears to be aimed at bolstering the deeply unpopular Palestinian Authority and avoiding friction during Bennett’s first state visit to Washington DC later this month.
Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war approximately 475,000 Jewish settlers have built on land in the West Bank captured and occupied by Israel, a practice considered by most of the international community to be illegal and a major impediment to lasting peace.
The Biden administration, which took office in January, is also seeking to repair relations with the Palestinians, which plummeted during Donald Trump’s presidency.
According to Axios, settlement building increased by 150% during Trump’s four years in office compared with Barack Obama’s second term. The 2,000 homes that are likely to be approved make up just a third of proposals under review, according to a settlement lobbying group.
Biden officials have warned Israel against taking actions that could undermine the viability of a two-state solution, including settlement construction, evicting Palestinians and demolishing their homes.
After the announcement on Wednesday there was no immediate comment from the Palestinians or the US.
Settlement building is one of the major dividing lines in Israel’s new ideologically divided government: the coalition encompasses leftists who oppose settlement building, rightwingers such as Bennett who previously led a settler lobbying group, and, for the first time, members of an Arab party.
The move was met with criticism from all sides of the Israeli political spectrum. Itamar Ben Gvir, the chair of the rightwing Otzma Yehudit party, accused the government of “forsaking” the West Bank to the Palestinians and “reducing state sovereignty to the point of a national disaster”.
In an open letter to Gantz, the leftwing Meretz party, which is now in government, called the plan to expand settlements “a dangerous move that may further entrench the conflict and present a roadblock to the possibility of presenting a sustainable, permanent agreement with the Palestinians”.
Combatants for Peace, an anti-occupation rights group, said in a statement: “The decision to continue to intensify the occupation and settlement enterprise is scandalous and constitutes an absolute violation of the status quo and of the coalition agreements. We call on the leftwing parties in the government not to lend a hand to this and we call on the government of change not to continue to do more of the same thing.”
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