Israel OK's for thousands of new settlement in the occupied territories, defying White House

AP , Tuesday 27 Jun 2023

Israel’s far-right government late on Monday approved plans to build over 5,000 new homes in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, Israeli media said, a move that threatened to worsen increasingly strained relations with the United States.

Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank
File Photo: A part of new housing projects in the occupied West Bank Israeli settlement of Givat Ze ev, Monday, June 18, 2023. Israel s far-right government on Monday, June 26, 2023, approved plans to build thousands of new homes in the occupied West Bank, a move that threatened to worsen increasingly strained relations with the United States. AP

 

The decision defied growing US criticism of Israel’s settlement policies. It also raised tensions with the Palestinians at a time of rising violence in the occupied territory.

Multiple Israeli media outlets said the Defense Ministry planning committee that oversees settlement construction approved some 5,700 new settlement homes.

The units are at various stages of planning, and it was not immediately clear when construction would begin. COGAT, the defense body in charge of the planning committee, did not respond to requests for comment.

The international community, along with the Palestinians, considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate and an obstacle to peace.

Over 700,000 Israelis now live in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

“The Netanyahu government is moving forward with its aggression and open war against the Palestinian people,” said Wassel Abu Yousef, a Palestinian official in the West Bank. “We affirm that all settler colonialism in all the occupied Palestinian territories is illegitimate and illegal.”

Peace Now, an anti-settlement watchdog group, said Israel has now approved over 13,000 settlement housing units this year.

That is nearly three times the number of homes approved in all of 2022 and marks the most approvals in any year since it began systematically tracking the planning procedures in 2012.

Israel’s government, which took office in late December, is dominated by extremist and ultranationalist politicians with close ties to the settlement movement.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a firebrand settler leader, has been granted Cabinet-level authority over settlement policies and has vowed to double the settler population in the West Bank.

The Biden administration has been increasingly outspoken in its criticism of Israel’s settlement policies. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the settlements “an obstacle to the horizon of hope we seek” in a speech to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC.

On Monday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the US was “deeply troubled” by the reported decision to build more settlement homes. “The United States opposes such unilateral actions that make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve,” he said.

Despite the criticism, the US has taken little action against Israel. In a sign of its displeasure, the White House has not yet invited Netanyahu for a visit, as is customary following Israeli elections.

And this week, the US said it would not transfer funds to Israeli institutions for science and technology research projects in the West Bank.

Ahead of Monday's vote, Israeli Cabinet Minister Issac Wasserlauf, a member of the far-right Jewish Power party, played down the disagreements with the US.

“I think the alliance with the US will remain,” he told the Army Radio station. “There are disagreements, we knew how to deal with them in the past.”

Simcha Rothman, another far-right member of the governing coalition, accused the Biden administration of having a “pathological obsession” with the Israeli government.

Senior members have been pushing for increased construction and other measures to cement Israel’s control over the territory in parallel with a year-long wave of violence against the Palestinians.

Israel expanded its military activity in the West Bank in early 2022. Over 180 Palestinians have been killed in fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem this year, according to Palestinians tolls.

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