In defiance of mounting international criticism, Israel has started to formally approve a burst of new settler housing construction across the occupied Palestinian territory.
Israeli media reported Tuesday that Israel’s Civil Administration had approved a further 153 settler units in settlements across the West Bank last week.
The approval reportedly came through for 65 homes in the settlements of Etz Efraim and Rachelim in Nablus, 28 apartments in Carmel in the South Hebron Hills, and another 60 in Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Bethlehem.
A spokesperson for Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) declined to comment, but Israeli daily Haaretz said the plans effectively put an end to an “informal construction freeze” that had lasted about 18 months.
Hagit Ofran, spokesperson for Israeli advocacy group and settlement watchdog Peace Now, told Ma’an that while approval for new homes in Israel’s settlements may have slowed over the last year and a half, construction had continued more or less unabated.
“They try to say there is a freeze while on the ground construction is continuing,” she said. “What we see is the policy of Netanyahu’s government.”
Peace Now is still compiling data for last year, but estimates so far suggest that 2015 saw at least as much settlement construction as 2013, even if less than in 2014 — “a unique year when they almost doubled construction,” Ofran said.
While the Israeli government has not approved as many new homes in the settlements over the past year and a half, work has gone ahead on buildings whose construction was approved earlier.
She said that even if there were to be a complete halt to new approvals, these earlier ones — in some cases dating back 20 years — could allow for the construction of as many as 10,000 new homes in settlements across the occupied Palestinian territory.
This was quite aside from the fact that settlers could also build homes without official authorization only to have them approved “retroactively,” she said.
There are now some 550,000 Israelis living in Jewish-only settlements across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in contravention of international law.
According to Israeli rights group B’Tselem, this population lives in 125 settlements recognized by the Israeli state and about 100 outposts that do not have official authorization but enjoy “support and assistance from government ministries.”
B’Tselem believes “the existence of settlements leads to violations of many of the human rights of Palestinians, including the rights to property, equality, an adequate standard of living and freedom of movement.”
– Read more: Israel Advances Settlement Plans Despite Outcry – MAAN