Israel has given preliminary approval for the construction of more than 800 new homes in illegal Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank, an Israeli official has said.
Guy Inbar, the spokesman for Israel’s military-run Civil Administration in the West Bank, said on Thursday that initial plans to build 800 new settler homes were approved a day earlier. However, actual construction would require sign-off from the government.
“This is a lengthy process,” said Inbar, who did not immediately provide further details on the plans.
Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog, put the number of new homes discussed by the Civil Administration on Wednesday at 1,096 and said they were earmarked for 11 illegal settlements, some located deep within the West Bank.
Israeli expansion on the West Bank could complicate US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which resumed last month after an almost three-year freeze over the settlement dispute and whose second round was expected to take place next week.
Israeli radio said interior ministry figures showed that settler population in the West Bank had risen by 7,700 during the first six months of 2013.
This represented a 2.1 percent rise in six months, compared to an annual population growth of two percent registered in Israel.
Settlement expansion has put Israel’s government at loggerheads with the European Union, which issued guidelines last month banning EU financial assistance to Israeli organizations in occupied territory.
In a sign of concern over the restrictions, Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu convened senior cabinet ministers on Thursday to discuss the EU edict.
An Israeli official said it was generally understood in the meeting that Israel would not sign deals with the EU based on the new directives.
Israel has said it would annex major West Bank settlement blocs, mainly situated close to the Israeli border, under any peace accord with the Palestinians.
Palestinian officials did not immediately comment on the new settlement plans.
(Ma’an – www.maannew.net)