Israel on Wednesday approved the construction of 1,958 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now told Agence France-Press (AFP). It was slightly fewer than the 2,500 for which Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said last week he intended to seek approval.
It was the first tranche of settlement approvals since the controversial U.S. embassy transfer to Jerusalem on May 14, a move that infuriated Palestinians and intensified protests on the Gaza border, with at least 61 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces that day.
Peace Now said that in Wednesday's batch, around 700 units got final approval while the remainder passed the first approval stage in the planning process. It said that the majority were in isolated settlements outside the major "blocs" which the government will seek to retain in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. Peace Now said in a statement that there had been a leap in settlement-building during U.S. President Donald Trump's term so far, with about 14,000 approvals.
That, it added, "is more than three times the amount that was approved in the year and a half before his inauguration (4,476 units)."
According to Israel's Channel 7, the government's planning and building committee approved construction of the new housing units in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem.
More than 600,000 Israelis live in settlements on the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, which are seen as a major obstacle to peace between Israel and Palestinians.
The Palestinians, for their part, want these areas, along with the Gaza Strip, for a future state of Palestine.
The international community regards all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal and a major obstacle to Middle East peace. The area, captured by Israel in 1967, is not sovereign Israeli territory and Palestinians there are not Israeli citizens and do not have the right to vote.
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