Israel’s government has tabled plans to approve thousands of building permits in the occupied West Bank, despite U.S. pressure to halt settlement expansion that Washington sees as an obstacle to peace with Palestinians.
The approval of 4,560 housing units in various West Bank districts is on the agenda of Israel’s Supreme Planning Council, which meets next week, however only 1,332 are up for final approval, with the remainder still undergoing preliminary clearance.
Most countries deem the settlements, built on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as illegal. Their presence is one of the fundamental issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as their capital. Peace talks that had been brokered by the United States have been frozen since 2014.
The U.S. State Department said it was deeply troubled by the move, and called on Israel to return to dialogue aimed at de-escalation.
As has been longstanding policy, the United States opposes such unilateral actions that make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve and are an obstacle to peace, department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.
Since entering office in January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition has approved the promotion of more than 7,000 new housing units, most deep in the West Bank.
It also amended a law to clear the way for settlers to return to four settlements that had previously been evacuated.
In response to Sunday’s Israeli decision, the Palestinian Authority – which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank – said it would boycott a meeting of the Joint Economic Committee with Israel scheduled for Monday.
The Palestinian Islamist organization Hamas, which has administered Gaza since 2007, following Israel’s pullout of soldiers and settlers, denounced the action, saying it “will not give (Israel) legitimacy over our land.” Our people will fight back in whatever way they can.”
Shlomo Ne’eman, mayor of the Gush Etzion Regional Council and chairman of the Yesha Council, referred to Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley in Israel as “the people have chosen to continue building, and that is the way it should be.”