Israel advances plans for 3,000 new West Bank homes

A March 31 photo showing the Palestinian West Bank village of Turmus Ayya and homes being built in the Jewish settlement of Shilo (foreground). Settlements are illegal under international law and are a major obstacle to the two-state solution.
A March 31 photo showing the Palestinian West Bank village of Turmus Ayya and homes being built in the Jewish settlement of Shilo (foreground). Settlements are illegal under international law and are a major obstacle to the two-state solution.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

This is despite Trump's call to hold back on such projects; Palestinians condemn move

JERUSALEM • Israel has advanced plans for more than 3,000 new homes in West Bank settlements this week, despite United States President Donald Trump's call to hold back on such projects as he seeks ways to restart peace efforts between Israel and Palestine.

Israel pushed forward with the plans as it marked 50 years since the Six-Day War, which began its occupation of the territory.

A total of 3,178 housing units were advanced in a number of different settlements, the Peace Now non-governmental organisation, which tracks settlement growth, said on Thursday.

They are the first new settlement announcements since Mr Trump's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories last month, when he tried to encourage both sides back to the negotiating table.

Mr Trump has called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold back on settlement building for now, but the right-wing Premier has been under intense pressure from settler leaders.

US State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said she was aware of a government announcement of "about 2,500 new units in the West Bank". "President Trump has talked about this consistently, and he has said that, in his opinion, unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance the peace process," she said.

The powerful settler movement wields heavy influence in Mr Netanyahu's right-wing governing coalition.

On Tuesday, a Defence Ministry planning committee advanced 1,500 housing units, while more than 900 others were added on Wednesday, Peace Now said.

In a separate process, 688 homes were advanced by the committee on Wednesday and will go out for a 60-day public comment period, during which objections can be filed.

The houses are in a number of settlements across the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the plan for the new housing units.

The Israeli authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Israel blames Palestinian incitement and intransigence for the conflict.

More than 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank, including in annexed east Jerusalem, alongside some three million Palestinians.

Settlements are illegal under international law. They are also seen as a major obstacle to the so-called two-state solution - the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

While the majority of the planned homes are in pre-existing settlements, some will be built in the first new official settlement in some 25 years, Peace Now said.

Last month, Mr Trump visited Israel and the Palestinian territories, meeting both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas and seeking what he called the "ultimate deal". But he has given no details about how he plans to restart talks, and there is deep scepticism over whether such an effort would have any chance of success.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Israel advances plans for 3,000 new West Bank homes'. Print Edition | Subscribe