Israel plans most settlement homes since 1992: minister

Defence minister says first half of 2017 has seen most illegal expansion since before "Oslo peace process" began.

    More than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank [Reuters]
    More than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank [Reuters]

    Israel has so far this year advanced its highest number of settlement projects since 1992, the defence minister said, despite warnings such plans make a two-state solution impossible.

    Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman made the comments on Sunday as Israel's government faced mounting pressure from leaders of the settlement movement, who wield heavy influence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition.

    Netanyahu has found himself seeking to balance the competing demands of the settlers and US President Donald Trump, who has asked him to hold back on such projects for now as he seeks a way to restart negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

    Lieberman told journalists and ministers at the start of a cabinet meeting that, so far this year, plans had been advanced for 8,345 homes in the occupied West Bank, including 3,066 slated for "immediate construction".


    READ MORE: 50 years on: How Israel devoured the rest of Palestine


    Settlement projects pass through a list of planning stages before final approval.

    "The numbers for the first half of 2017 are the highest since 1992," Lieberman said.

    The figures were similar to those published by settlement watchdog Peace Now last week.

    Counting plans and tenders, Peace Now said 7,721 units had been advanced this year, almost triple the number for all of 2016, which amounted to 2,699.

    Peace Now could not immediately say whether it agreed that this year's figures were the highest since 1992, AFP news agency reported.

    Last week alone, Israel advanced plans for more than 3,000 settlement homes.

    While the majority of those are for pre-existing homes, some will be built in the first new official settlement in some 25 years, Peace Now said.

    Palestine and Israel: One state, or two?

    Last month, Trump visited Israel and Palestine, meeting both Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas as he seeks what he calls the "ultimate deal".

    But he has given no details about how he plans to restart talks, and there is deep scepticism over whether such an effort would have any chance of success.

    Settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major stumbling blocks to a solution as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state in a two-state settlement.

    More than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, alongside around 2.9 million Palestinians, which critics say makes a two-state agreement highly unlikely.

    SOURCE: News agencies


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