JERUSALEM: Israel advanced plans for building more than 3,000 settler homes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, a military spokesman said, a day after the US forcefully criticized such construction.
The Civil Administration’s high planning committee gave the final green light to 1,800 homes and initial approval for another 1,344, a spokesman for the military body that oversees civilian matters in the Palestinian territories told the Media.
The approvals come after the United States criticized Israel on Tuesday for its policy of building settlements, with President Joe Biden’s administration saying it “strongly” opposed new construction on the West Bank.
His administration’s position on the matter stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor Donald Trump, whose presidency saw the US offer a green light to Israel’s activity on occupied Palestinian land.
“We are deeply concerned about the Israeli government’s plan to advance thousands of settlement units,” State Department spokesman Ned Price had said on Tuesday, ahead of Israel’s announcement on final and preliminary approvals.
Price stopped short of saying the matter would jeopardize relations with the Jewish state, a major US ally.
But he said that the Biden administration would “raise this issue directly with senior Israeli officials in our private sessions.”
The locations of the homes – some proposed, others already built – that were approved on Wednesday were spread across the West Bank, from the suburbs of Jerusalem to new neighbourhoods of settlements deep inside the territory.
Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and east Jerusalem has been a policy of every Israeli government since 1967, when it occupied these areas in the Six Day war. It later annexed east Jerusalem.
Israel’s housing ministry had separately on Sunday published tenders to build 1,355 new homes in the West Bank.
The Civil Administration is meanwhile scheduled on Sunday to advance plans for the construction of 1,301 homes for Palestinians in Israeli-controlled parts of the West Bank.
Critics say that move is an attempt to allay criticism from Israeli allies around the world and the anger of leftwing partners in an unwieldy coalition government headed by right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
It is the first time that the Civil Administration, the military rulers of the West Bank, has approved settlement construction under Bennett’s government.
He came to power in June as the head of an ideologically disparate eight-party coalition with members ranging from the Jewish religious far-right to Israel’s Islamist party.
The former head of a settler lobby group, he opposes Palestinian statehood.
Bennett has ruled out formal peace talks with the Palestinian Authority during his tenure, saying he prefers to focus on economic improvements.
Israeli anti-occupation group Peace Now accused the government of “violating the status-quo” over the settlements, and accused proponents of the two-state solution within Bennett’s coalition of “falling asleep on their shift.”
About 475,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law, on land Palestinians claim as part of their future state.
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