Israel approves 2,300 new homes for settlers in West Bank: NGO

Peace Now says the plan is the latest in a surge of such approvals since US President Donald Trump took office.

    More than 640,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, including annexed East Jerusalem, among some three million Palestinians [File: Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press]
    More than 640,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, including annexed East Jerusalem, among some three million Palestinians [File: Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press]

    Israel has advanced plans for more than 2,300 illegal settlement homes in the occupied West Bankthe latest in a surge of such approvals since US President Donald Trump took office in 2017, according to an NGO.

    Israel's Higher Planning Committee issued the approvals while meeting over the past couple of days, Peace Now said in a statement on Monday. 

    The 2,304 housing units are at various stages in the approval process, according to Peace Now, an Israeli group closely monitoring settlement building.

    "The approval of settlement plans is part of a disastrous government policy designed to prevent the possibility of peace and a two-state solution, and to annex part or all of the West Bank," the group said.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged before April elections to annex settlements in the West Bank, a move long supported by nearly all legislators in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties.

    Annexing settlements on a large-scale in the West Bank could prove to be a death knell for the two-state solution, long the focus of international efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

    Issa Amro, a Palestinian rights activist who is based in Hebron, a West Bank city at the heart of Israeli settler seizure of Palestinian land, said that since Trump took office, Israel has been expanding its settlement project "even faster".

    It has also been demolishing Palestinian homes at a faster rate, he added.

    "Israel and the settlers feel they have full impunity to work more and more towards annexation," Amro told Al Jazeera. 

    "The Netanyahu government feels emboldened to not even try to hide the annexation agenda."

    To Amro, the move to build settlements on occupied land will only translate into "more inequality, and less freedom for the Palestinian population".

    "It is a strengthening of Israel's apartheid system," he said.

    Settlements are illegal under international law and are major stumbling blocks to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. They are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

    No mention of 'two-state solution'

    Trump has taken an unapologetically pro-Israel line during his presidency, with moves including his controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in late 2017. 

    In June, Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, unveiled the financial portion of Washington's long-awaited Middle East peace plan.

    Publication of the full plan is expected to be further delayed due to Israel's general election in September, the second this year.

    The plan is regarded as too sensitive to release during the election campaign.

    Palestinian leaders, who have refused to engage with the Trump administration accusing it of being the most biased towards Israel in US history, say Washington can no longer be an honest broker in negotiations. 

    In a rare move, Israel's security cabinet last week gave rare approval to 700 Palestinian homes in a part of the West Bank under its full control while also approving 6,000 homes for Jewish settlers. The announcement came in advance of an expected visit to Israel by Kushner.

    Details of the cabinet's plans were not publicly released, and some of the 6,000 settler homes may be included in this week's committee approvals, according to Peace Now's Hagit Ofran.

    The plan for Palestinians, though relatively small and far outweighed by the new settlement homes, could allow Netanyahu to argue he is making efforts in favour of the White House's plan.

    Details of Kushner's visit were not yet made available, but he has said his plan will not mention a two-state solution because "it means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians", despite the notion of a two-state solution being the bedrock of talks in the past. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies