Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who failed to win a majority of votes in previous elections, pledged Tuesday to build 3,500 new illegal settler homes in a particularly sensitive area of the occupied West Bank, just a week before a tight general election.
Both Palestinians and foreign opponents of the construction planned over the E-1 area of the West Bank have cautioned that the Israeli housing in the corridor's barren hills could bisect the West Bank, cutting Palestinians off from Jerusalem, thereby further dimming hopes for a contiguous Palestinian state.
Using an administrative term for the first phase of a planning process, Netanyahu announced, "I have given instructions to immediately publish for deposit the plan to build 3,500 housing units in E-1."
"This had been delayed for six or seven years," he said in a speech six days before a national election in which the right-wing Likud party leader is seeking to shore up backing from settlers and their supporters.
The E-1 plan would expand the large Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, effectively connecting it to Jerusalem, which lies about a 15-minute drive away.
Netanyahu also announced his approval of a new settlement with several thousand homes in Givat Hamatos, which is located next to the mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa.
Palestinians have condemned Netanyahu’s plan to build thousands of new settler homes in east Jerusalem as a pre-election tactic that risks fueling further violence.
The international community regards all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal and a major obstacle to Middle East peace. Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War, and hundreds of thousands of Jewish-Israelis are now living in the territory, which is claimed by Palestinians for their future state.