A watchdog group said Israel approved the construction of 4,427 additional homes in its settlements on occupied West Bank land where Palestinians seek statehood on Thursday, in response to US criticism of the plans.
After a meeting of Israel’s Higher Planning Council, which convened to sanction the development, Peace Now, an anti-settlement group, supplied the figure. The watchdog reported that 2,791 dwellings gained final approval and 1,636 received an initial nod at the conference.
There was no immediate government statement, but responding on Twitter to Peace Now’s tally, Israel’s nationalist interior minister, Ayelet Shaked, called it “a festive day for the settlement of Judea and Samaria” – biblical names for the West Bank.
Last week, Shaked announced the plan to approve the new homes, and the Biden administration voiced its “strong” opposition in response.
Asked on Thursday about the housing council’s decision, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson referred Reuters to remarks made by the State Department after Shaked spoke last week.
“Israel’s program of expanding settlements deeply damages the prospect for a two-state solution,” the State Department said on Friday, referring to a vision of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Talks on that goal stalled in 2014.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Bassam al-Salhe, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, urged Palestinians to “step up their struggle in the face of these settlement projects”.
He also called on the international community “to take deterrent action against Israel to compel it to stop settlement and its aggression against our Palestinian people”.
Most world powers deem Israel’s settlements — on land it captured in a 1967 war — as illegal. Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the territory.
No date was immediately given for construction of the homes that would expand 22 of Israel’s 132 government-backed settlements in the West Bank.