Israel’s Government on Monday approved plans to build more than 5,000 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a move that threatens to further worsen strained relations with the United States.
The decision sparked growing American criticism of Israel’s settlement policies. It also raised tensions with the Palestinians at a time of increasing violence in the occupied territory.
Israeli media outlets said the Defense Ministry’s planning committee that oversees settlement construction has approved about 5,700 new settlement homes. The units are in various stages of planning, and it was not immediately clear when construction would begin.
COGAT, the defence body in charge of the planning committee, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Palestinians, as well as the international community, consider settlement construction to be illegal or illegitimate and an obstacle to peace. More than 700,000 Israelis now live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem – territory captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for a future state.
“The Netanyahu government is continuing with its aggression and open war against the Palestinian people,” said Wasel Abu Yusuf, a Palestinian official in the West Bank. “We affirm that all colonialism in all the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegitimate and illegal.”
Anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now said Israel has approved more than 13,000 housing units this year. This is almost three times the number of homes approved in the whole of 2022 and the most approvals in any year since planning processes began to be systematically tracked in 2012.
Israel’s government, which took office in late December, is dominated by religious and ultranationalist politicians with close ties to the settlement movement. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a firebrand settler leader, has been given cabinet-level authority over settlement policies and has vowed to double the West Bank’s settler population.
The Biden administration is becoming increasingly vocal in its criticism of Israel’s settlement policies. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the settlements “a barrier to the horizon of hope we are looking for” 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 houses. “The United States opposes such unilateral actions that make it more difficult to achieve a two-state solution,” he added.