Israel approves plans for 1,000 settlement homes

Israel has approved plans to build more than 1,000 illegal settlement homes in the occupied West Bank, the latest in a raft of approvals since US President Donald Trump took office last year.

The Israeli government announced on Wednesday that plans for 1,004 homes have been approved by a defence ministry committee.

Peace Now NGO, which closely monitors Israeli settlement building, said that nearly 400 homes received final approval for construction to begin, while the rest await further bureaucratic approvals.

Among the approved homes are 370 housing units in the illegal Adam settlement, where three Israelis were stabbed by a Palestinian in July, one fatally, according to Peace Now. 

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman had pledged to build 400 new homes in the settlement in response to the stabbings.

According to Peace Now, 96 percent of those approved “are in isolated settlements that Israel will likely need to evacuate within the framework of a two-state agreement”.

In addition to the most recent approval and according to media reports, the government plans to promote hundreds more housing units by issuing tenders and promoting a plan for some 300 units in the illegal Beit El settlement, located north of Ramallah, Peace Now wrote in a statement.

Israeli settlements are considered a violation of international law and major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians want for their future state including occupied East Jerusalem.

Some 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem – territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war. 

The international community, along with the Palestinians, considers the settlements illegal and an impediment to peace. There have been warnings that the continuing expansion of settlements is diminishing any remaining hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel dismisses those arguments, blaming Palestinian violence and “incitement” against it for stalled peace efforts.

Fast-track settlement plans

In a break from his predecessors, President Donald Trump has avoided condemning settlement construction, though he has urged Israel to show restraint.

Trump’s administration has been far less critical of settlement building than his predecessor Barack Obama.

Peace Now says West Bank settlement plans increased to 6,742 units in 2017 compared with 2,629 the previous year, former US President Barack Obama’s last in office. 

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Plans have been advanced for 3,794 units so far this year, the NGO said.

Lieberman said in May that he aimed to fast-track plans for thousands of West Bank settlement homes in 2018. 

Trump’s Mideast team, headed by his adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been working on an Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal for months but has not said when it will be released.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, told reporters in Jerusalem on Wednesday that a “lot of progress” has been made, but would not say when it will be publicised.

The Palestinians have already said they consider the plan a non-starter, accusing Trump of being unfairly biased towards Israel after his unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital in December.

There was no immediate Palestinian reaction to the latest settlement announcement, which came in the middle of a Muslim holiday, but it was expected to draw further condemnation.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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