Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved the construction of 454 new settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem, lifting a freeze on their construction in place since 2013, Israeli officials were reported as saying Tuesday.
Unnamed officials told Reuters and Associated Press that Netanyahu had approved 436 housing units in the illegal settlement of Ramat Shlomo in northern East Jerusalem, and another 18 homes in nearby Ramot.
The homes in Ramat Shlomo were among 1,500 homes first announced in 2010 during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden to Israel.
The announcement caused a diplomatic rift between the US and Israel, and Netanyahu later froze the housing project in a bid to improve relations.
Hagit Ofran, a settlement expert with Israeli rights group Peace Now, told Ma’an that she had not received independent information on the reports but said she believed they were true.
She said that it was likely building contractors would begin bidding for contracts on the projects “in coming days.”
Ofran said there was no longer a “high political price” for the settlement plans and Netanyahu was likely to come under minimal domestic and international pressure over them.
“I think he’s testing the water,” she said, adding that he appeared to be taking advantage of timing, at a point when the international community was concerned with last week’s deadly attacks in Paris.
She expressed concerns that a limited reaction to these settlement plans could be “the opening of floodgates.”
“Netanyahu has a clear policy and ideology aimed at preventing a Palestinian state,” Ofran said, adding that the occupied Palestinian territory might have looked very different had a different Israeli prime minister been in office the past six years.
Israel’s settlements currently sprawl across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, housing more than 500,000 Israelis.
– Read more: Israeli PM Approves over 450 New Settler Homes in East Jerusalem – Ma’an