Israel Approves Hundreds of Homes in West Bank Settlements

Civil Administration planning panel okays construction of 285 new housing units in Israeli settlements; plan to build housing in Efrat settlement shelved due to U.S. pressure, sources say.

A Palestinian laborer works at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Beit Arye in the West Bank, 2009.
A Palestinian laborer works at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Beit Arye in the West Bank, 2009. Jonathan Nackstrandת AFP

Israel approved on Wednesday the construction of hundreds of new housing units in West bank settlements and retroactively legalized dozens more. The plan has already been approved at the political level.

The White House said the development "poses a serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution."

Another plan to build housing in the Efrat settlement was meant to be approved but was shelved in the last minute due to fears of U.S. pressure, sources said. 

The Civil Administration's High Planning Committee approved the building of 234 homes in Elkana, which are designated by the plan as a nursing home, 31 homes in Beit Arye, and 20 homes in Givat Ze'ev. The committee has also legalized 178 housing units which were built in Beit Arye the 1980s.

The West Bank settlement of Efrat is seen on September 1, 2014.
AFP

The housing units planned for Elkana still require objections to be heard before a final approval is granted.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the approvals a "significant expansion of settlement activity" and said the development "poses a serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We are particularly troubled by a policy of retroactively approving illegal outposts and unauthorized settlements," Earnest said. "I think we have been quite unambiguous about the concerns we have on this issue."

Another plan to build 30 housing units in the Efrat settlement was expected to be approved during the meeting but was ultimately not discussed. According to sources familiar with the details, the plan was pulled from the agenda at Netanyahu's request due to fear of U.S. pressure. According to one source, Netanyahu told the parties involved in promoting the plan that it would be frozen until after the U.S. presidential election in November, and its future will depend on the election's result. The Civil Administration confirmed that the plan was removed from the agenda in the last minute.

The heads of the Eretz-Israel caucus in the Knesset, MKs Yoav Kish (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) the Civil Administration's failure to approve the plan "an injustice that cannot be countenanced," adding that "a seven-fold more serious injustice is the plan to promote planning and construction for the Arab population at a time when the Jewish communities are frozen and forced to make do with just crumbs."

The Civil Administration is the Israeli agency that oversees services for residents of the occupied West Bank.

Earlier this month, a Jerusalem district panel approved the construction of 56 homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot, located across the Green Line.

The additional housing will not expand the boundaries of the neighborhood, but will increase building density within Ramot.

Last week, Haaretz reported that Israel plans to expand the Jewish settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron for the first time in over a decade. The U.S. State Department expressed "deep concern" about the intention to advance construction for settlers there.

AP contributed to the report.