Israel approves over 2,600 settler homes this week: NGO

Jerusalem: Israeli authorities approved another large set of plans for settlement homes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, bringing the total for the week to more than 2,600, settlement watchdog Peace Now said.

Some 1,323 settlement housing units were given a green light on Wednesday, while 2,646 have been advanced this week, it said, as part of a government push to expand West Bank settlement construction.

The plans passed this week are at various stages in Israel’s complex approval process. A planning committee overseeing West Bank settlement construction granted the latest approvals.

They include 102 homes for Amichai, the first new government-sanctioned settlement built in the Palestinian territories in some 25 years.

“We’re working at a pace unparallelled since 2000,” Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday of settlement building.

Peace Now said the settlement push was “distancing us daily from the possibility of a two-state solution”.

“The government is sending a clear message to settlers: Build illegally and anywhere and we will find a solution for you,” it said in a statement.

Government officials have pledged a major boost in settlement home approvals this year, with US President Donald Trump so far much less critical of such plans than his predecessor Barack Obama.

Israeli officials say a total of around 12,000 housing units will be given various stages of approval this year, four times the amount in 2016.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, and settlement advocates wield heavy influence in his ruling coalition.

– ‘Detrimental’ –
In a response to the plans for settlement homes advanced on Tuesday, the European Union called on Israel to reconsider.

“The European Union has requested clarifications from Israeli authorities and conveyed the expectation that they reconsider these decisions, which are detrimental to ongoing efforts towards meaningful peace talks,” an EU statement said.

The bloc voiced particular concern about proposals to build settler homes in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron for the first time since 2002 and about the start of preparatory groundwork in the east Jerusalem area of Givat Hamatos.

Construction in Givat Hamatos would “severely jeopardise the contiguity and viability of a future Palestinian state”, the EU said, adding that it would continue work with international and regional partners to try to restart dialogue.

Trump has also said he is seeking to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which have been frozen since a US-led initiative collapsed in 2014.

However, his administration has offered no details of its plans and he has yet to commit to a two-state solution to the conflict — long the focus of international peace efforts.

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman is a supporter of settlements and has reportedly in the past been president of a group called American Friends of Beit El Institutions.

Beit El is a settlement near Ramallah. Also this week, Israel published a tender for 296 homes there.

Settlement building in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem is considered illegal under international law.

It is also seen as a major obstacle to peace as the settlements are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

Prominent members of Netanyahu’s coalition openly oppose the idea of a Palestinian state and advocate annexing most of the West Bank.

Netanyahu recently said he plans no uprooting of settlements, blaming Palestinian “incitement” and attacks against Israelis, among other issues, for the lack of progress in peace efforts.

About 430,000 Israeli settlers live among 2.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.