Israel is set to advance plans for the construction of 4,000 illegal settler homes in the occupied West Bank, the interior minister has said.
Interior minister Ayelet Shaked, a staunch supporter of settlements, wrote in a Tweet on Friday that a planning committee would convene next week to approve 4,000 homes, calling construction in the West Bank a “basic, required and obvious thing”.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that the Civil Administration, a military body, would meet Thursday to advance 1,452 units, and that another 2,536 units would be approved by defence minister Benny Gantz.
Israeli settlements are fortified, Jewish-only housing complexes built on Palestinian land in violation of international law. Between 600,000 and 750,000 Israeli settlers live in at least 250 illegal settlements in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.
If approved, it would be the biggest advancement of settlement plans since US President Joe Biden took office. The White House is opposed to settlement growth because it further erodes the possibility of an eventual two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
US ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides was quoted by local media on Friday as saying the Biden administration has repeatedly made it clear to Israel during the past week that it strongly opposes any further settlement expansion activity.
The move comes ahead of a planned visit by Biden to Israel, slated for June.
Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist and founder of the Youth Against Settlements NGO, told Al Jazeera that the approval of 4,000 new settler homes would mean “more Israeli settler violence towards Palestinians in the West Bank” and more “restrictions and apartheid polices” to be imposed on the Palestinians.
“It is an indicator that Israel is violating international law with impunity and without accountability, and it shows that the international community is using double standards with Israel,” Amro said.
He added the move also makes Palestinians feel “more disappointed and hopeless” towards the Biden administration.
Israel approved the construction of 3,000 settler homes in October despite another US rebuke. Authorities have, however, paused some especially controversial projects in the wake of strong US opposition.
Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has continued under every Israeli government since Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Middle East war.
However, construction accelerated in the last few years under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with a significant boom during Trump’s US administration, which Palestinians accused of having a strong pro-Israel bias.
Settler attacks against Palestinians and their property are a regular occurrence in the West Bank, home to nearly three million Palestinians.
The Palestinian leadership wants the West Bank as part of a future state and views the illegal settlements as a major obstacle to any potential deal.
Earlier this year, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT).
Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued a policy of establishing and maintaining a “Jewish demographic majority”, Amnesty said. Israel also exercises full control over land and resources to benefit Jewish Israelis, including those in illegal settlements.
Additional reporting by Farah Najjar.