Israel approves 463 settlement homes: watchdog

Jerusalem: Israel today approved the construction of 463 homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, the watchdog Peace Now said, drawing a sharp rebuke from the United States.

Washingtonsaid it was “deeply concerned” by the announcement, with a senior US official slamming the “pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way”.

The approvals mostly involved new housing units, but a retroactive green light was also granted to 179 existing homes in the Ofarim settlement.

Around 50 new units received final approval, while others were given preliminary authorisation at different stages in the review process.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “continues to plan and build all over the West Bank, while also giving settlers the message that any construction done without planning will be retroactively legalised,” Peace Now said.

Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the UN Security Council on Monday that Israeli settlement expansion had surged in the past two months since a key report called for a halt.

The report by the diplomatic Quartet – the European Union, Russia, the UN and the United States – said construction of settlements on land earmarked to be part of a future Palestinian state is eroding the possibility of a two-state solution.

In response, Netanyahu’s office called criticism of Israeli settlement building “absurd”, particularly related to east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians see east Jerusalem, occupied by Israelin 1967 and later annexed, as the capital of their future state. Israelsees all of Jerusalem as its capital.

“The claim that it is illegal for Jews to build in Jerusalem is as absurd as saying Americans can’t build in Washingtonor the French can’t build in Paris,” Netanyahu spokesman David Keyes said in response to Mladenov’s comments.

The United States, has long been concerned that Israel’s building on occupied Palestinian land is undermining hopes for a Middle East peace deal.

“We are deeply concerned by the government of Israel’s announcement today to advance plans for over 500 new settlement units in the West Bank,” a senior US official told AFP.

“This significant expansion of the settlement enterprise poses a very serious and growing threat to the viability of the two-state solution,” he said on condition of anonymity.