Israel is planning to build a major settlement neighborhood in the occupied West Bank, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported yesterday. The daily said the government has allocated 1,200 square meters for the new neighborhood that would expand the Efrat settlement toward the southern outskirts of Bethlehem city. According to Haaretz, the building of the new neighborhood would mean that the Palestinian city would be surrounded by settlements.
Back in 2013, Prime Minister Netanyahu's government was obliged to drop widespread housing construction plans in the occupied territories, including several hundred residential units in Givat Eitam, due to international pressure on Israel's illegal settlement plans. More than 650,000 Jewish settlers now live in 196 settlements built with the Israeli government's approval across the West Bank, according to Palestinian figures.
Settlements are one of the most heated issues facing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, frozen since 2014. 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. Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas that are also home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians. Palestinians have long argued that Israeli settlements could deny them a viable and contiguous state.