Israel approves more than 1,100 new settlement homes: NGO

JERUSALEM: Israel has approved more than 1,100 new settlement homes in the occupied West Bank, the Peace Now NGO said on Thursday, the latest in a raft of such moves by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
The approvals were given by a defence ministry committee with authority over settlement construction.
Three hundred and fifty-two homes received final approval, while the others are at an earlier stage in the process, Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, which monitors settlement building, said. A total of 1,122 housing units were advanced, including seven already existing homes given retroactive approval.
According to Ofran, the majority of the approvals are for settlements deep in the West Bank that Israel would probably need to evacuate as part of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s a part of the general trend that the government is doing, which is to build all over the West Bank, even more in places that Israel would need to evict, and in this way to torpedo the possibility for a two-state solution,” she said.
Saeb Erekat, Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said Israel “continues with its plan to bury all the chances of a political settlement”, while alleging that it is being “encouraged” by US President Donald Trump’s administration.
A shooting that killed an Israeli settler on Tuesday in the West Bank led to new calls for further settlement building, though the plans approved on Wednesday were already in the works.
According to Peace Now, 6,742 housing projects were approved in the settlements last year, the highest figure since 2013.
Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major obstacles to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Prominent members of Netanyahu’s right-wing government openly oppose Palestinian statehood.
Israel faced sharp criticism from the administration of former US president Barack Obama over settlement construction, but that has not been the case with Trump’s White House and Israeli officials have sought to take advantage.
European nations have maintained their strong opposition to settlement building, and France on Thursday condemned the latest Israeli approvals.
A French foreign ministry spokesman reiterated the country’s call for a freeze on settlement building.
“France’s priority is to work to preserve the two-state solution and to contribute to a resumption of decisive negotiations,” the spokesman said.
The UN envoy for the Middle East peace process also condemned the approvals, saying “settlement-related activities undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-state solution”.
“They entrench a one-state reality that is incompatible with realising the national aspirations of both peoples,” Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement. — AFP