Israel has given final approval for 90 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, driving another wedge into a rift with Washington ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama.
The homes will be built in Beit El, a major Jewish settlement north of Jerusalem, the defense ministry said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged that 300 new dwellings will eventually be constructed in Beit El, despite a Supreme Court ruling that evicted 30 settler families from the area last June, saying they were living illegally on private Palestinian land.
Israel has come under international criticism, including from its main ally the US, over its illegal construction policy in the West Bank, territory it occupied in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians claim as their future state.
Settlement expansion has been an irritant in a testy relationship between Netanyahu and Obama, who is due to visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan this spring.
Both Israel and the US have played down speculation that the trip could result in the revival of US-hosted peace talks with the Palestinians that collapsed over the settlement issue in 2010.
“The Palestinian position is clear. There can be no negotiation while settlement continues,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in response to the new Beit El construction.
International law and most of the international community consider Israel’s settlements illegal.
Israel disputes this, citing historical and Biblical links to the land.
Victoria Nuland, the US State Department spokeswoman, said she had not seen the announcement but repeated the Obama administration’s opposition to such settlement expansion.
“Our position on this has not changed. We don’t think it’s helpful,” Nuland told reporters at her daily briefing.
There are now more than 325,000 settlers living in the West Bank, with a further 200,000 living in East Jerusalem, which was also occupied by Israel after 1967.
It is claimed by the Palestinians as their capital city.
(Agencies and Al Jazeera – aljazeera.com)