Watchdog: Israel pushes ahead with hundreds of settler homes

The group, Peace Now, said that a planning committee granted approval to the settlement houses earlier this week.
Thursday 08/08/2019
A Palestinian shepherd walks his goats in a field facing the israeli settlement of Ibei Hanahal (background) near the village of Kissan south the Israel-occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem, on August 6, 2019. (AFP)
A Palestinian shepherd walks his goats in a field facing the israeli settlement of Ibei Hanahal (background) near the village of Kissan south the Israel-occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem, on August 6, 2019. (AFP)

Israel is moving forward with more than 2,300 housing units for settlers in the West Bank, a watchdog group said Wednesday, drawing condemnation from the Palestinians and the international community.

The group, Peace Now, said that a planning committee granted approval to the settlement houses earlier this week. About 800 of those were given the final go-ahead, meaning construction could start within days while the others are still in the planning pipeline and require further approvals.

The committee also authorized three small outposts that were initially built without government approval, according to Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran. She said approvals such as this latest one could make partitioning the West Bank under a future peace deal with the Palestinians practically impossible.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war — for their hoped-for state. Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal and an obstacle to creating a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel considers the territories “disputed,” and says the fate of the settlements should be determined through negotiations, which have been moribund for years.

President Donald Trump, whose Mideast team has deep ties to the settlements, has shown tolerance toward Israel’s expansion of settler housing the West Bank. He has promised to present a peace plan for the conflict but faces deep skepticism from the Palestinians because of policies they see as favorable to Israel.

The new approval elicited condemnation from the United Nations’ Mideast envoy Nikolay Mladenov, who said Israel’s settlement building “must cease immediately and completely.”

Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Milhim said Israel’s government was “stepping up settlement building to terminate any chance to have a political solution in the future.”

COGAT, the defense body responsible for civil affairs in the West Bank, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(AP)