Israel on Sunday announced plans to build an additional 1,355 homes in the occupied West Bank, on top of a previously announced figure.
The move adds to concerns that increased settlement building would damage the viability of any Palestinian state, hampering hopes for peace in the region.
What is planned?
The newly announced homes are to be constructed in seven settlements, according to a statement from the Ministry of Construction and Housing.
The largest construction project, 729 homes, would be in the already existing town of Ariel, in the northern West Bank.
“After a long period of stagnation in construction, I welcome this tender. I will continue to maintain Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria,” said Housing Minister Zeev Elkin, using biblical-era terms traditionally used for parts of the territory occupied by Israel.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who formerly headed a settler lobby group, opposes Palestinian statehood. He has ruled out formal peace talks with the Palestinian Authority during his term of office.
Some 475,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the West Bank on land that Palestinians claim as part of their future state. The settlements are considered illegal under international law.
State viability called into question
Member of the Israeli parliament Mossi Raz, from the left-wing coalition party Meretz, was quoted by the Times of Israel as saying that the “building of settlements outside of Israel harms Israel.”
Hagit Ofran from the anti-settlement group Peace Now said the expected approval of new homes this week would complicate any efforts to create a Palestinian state.
Palestinians — who seek to establish their own state in the West Bank — see the building of more settlements as an obstacle to peace as part of a two-state solution.
They say the building of more and more homes will increasingly make any nation unviable.
Plans for some 2,000 new dwellings had been announced in August, prompting concern over the expected approvals this week from the United States.
State Department spokesman Ned Price called on Israel and the Palestinians to “refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tension and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.”
A policy pursued over decades
Israel has exercised full administrative control over the territory, where some 2 million Palestinians live, since the Six Day War of 1967.
However, construction has accelerated in recent years under former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The settlements already house some 700,000 people.
Every Israeli government since then has pursued the settlements in the West Bank and the annexation of East Jerusalem.