Israel approves more than 7,000 settlement homes, groups say

Israel’s far-right government has granted approval for more than 7,000 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, settlement backers and opponents said Thursday. The move defies growing international opposition to construction in the occupied territory.

The announcement came just days after the U.N. Security Council passed a statement strongly criticizing Israeli settlement construction on occupied lands claimed by Palestinians. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, blocked what would have been an even tougher legally binding resolution, with diplomats saying they had received assurances that Israel would refrain from unilateral acts for six months.

The new approvals took place during a two-day meeting that ended Thursday and appeared to contradict those claims. The U.S. has repeatedly criticized Israeli settlement construction, saying it undermines hopes for a two-state solution with the Palestinians, but has taken no action to stop it.

Peace Now, an anti-settlement watchdog group that attended the meeting, said a planning committee granted approvals for some 7,100 new housing units across the West Bank.

The group said the committee scheduled a meeting next month to discuss plans to develop a strategic area east of Jerusalem known as E1. The U.S. in the past has blocked the project, which would largely bisect the West Bank and which critics say would make it impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Lior Amihai, the group’s incoming director, said some 5,200 housing units were in the early stages of planning, and the remainder were approved for near-term construction. He also said construction was approved in four unauthorized outposts.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had pledged not to legalize any more wildcat outposts. He made the promise after retroactively legalizing 10 existing outposts earlier this month.

The Israeli government is “spitting on the face of the U.S., only a few days after announcing that they committed to them that there would be no advancement of settlements in the near future,” Peace Now said.

The United States criticized the decision. “We view the expansion of settlements as an obstacle to peace that undermines the geographic viability of a two-state solution,” a National Security Council statement said. But it gave no indication that the U.S. was prepared to act.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, appealed to the United States to intervene. “The American side is required to stop this violation, which will not lead to any peace or stability in the region,” he said.

The planned construction is likely to add to the already heightened tensions following an Israeli military raid that killed 10 Palestinians in the West Bank city of Nablus on Wednesday.

The international community, along with the Palestinians, considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate. More than 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 independent state.

Netanyahu’s new…

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