The number of Israeli settlements being started in the West Bank more than doubled during 2013, the Israel central bureau of statistics has said.
The bureau said work began on 2,534 new housing units in the settlements in 2013, compared to 1,133 in 2012.
Monday’s announcement comes just hours before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington.
The two have long been at odds over Israel’s settlement policies, with Obama previously saying the continued building of settlements did not “advance the cause of peace.”
“We have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama said in an interview with Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg published on Sunday.
“If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”
“It’s official, the Netanyahu government is committed to only one thing: building settlements. It shows the lack of commitment to negotiations,” a Peace Now statement said.
Obama is expected to try to persuade Netanyahu to accept a US framework for final peace talks with the Palestinians, but the Israeli leader has vowed to resist all “pressures.”
Obstacle to Peace
Earlier this month, aid agencies highlighted the growing number of Israeli demolitions of Palestinian properties in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, despite renewed US-backed peace negotiations.
The number of demolitions increased by almost half, the displacement of Palestinians by nearly three-quarters, between July 2013, when the talks began, and the end of the year, compared to the same period in 2012, a statement released by 25 aid organizations on February 7 said.
On January 22, Israel announced plans for 382 homes in the occupied West Bank. Earlier in the same month it approved plans for 272 new homes in various illegal West Bank settlements followed by plans for more than 1,877 new units, some in occupied East Jerusalem.
Palestinians consider any settlements built beyond the pre-1967 territorial lines to be illegal and an obstacle to peace, while Netanyahu refuses to recognize the ‘Green line’ as a starting point for negotiations.
(Al Jazeera and agencies – www.aljazeera.com)