Israel Approves Construction and Planning of 2,500 Settler Homes in West Bank

Announcement criticized by top settler body, which calls it a 'disappointment.' EU calls Israeli construction plans 'regrettable,' Palestinians term them a 'deliberate provocation.'

Construction in the settlement of Ariel
Construction in the settlement of Ariel Ilan Assayag

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman approved the construction and planning of some 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank on Tuesday.

Overall, the marketing of lands for the immediate construction of 909 new homes have been approved, as well as the expediting of planning at the relevant committees for an additional 1,642 homes.

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According to a Defense Ministry press release, most of the units are located within settlement blocs, while some 100 of them are located in the settlement of Beit El, and others in Migron. However, a look at the planned locations shows the construction is slated for outside the settlement blocs, as well.

Number of planned housing units

In total, 909 units were approved for immediate marketing. These are divided up among the following settlements: Givat Ze'ev, 552 units; Alfei Menashe, 78 units; Beitar Elite, 87 units; Ma'ale Adumim, 90 units; Ariel, 63 units; Efrat, 21 units and Elkana, 18 units.

Another 1,642 units will enter a planning phase in the National Planning and Building Council, divided up as follows: Ets Efraim, 81 units; Givat Ze'ev, 100 units; Kokhav Ya'akov, 86 units; Har Gillo, 4 units; Zufim, 292 units; Oranit, 154; Ariel, 899 units; Sha'arei Tikva, 6 units and Beit El, 20 units.

Netanyahu said that "we are building - and will continue to build." Lieberman said that, "We are returning to life as normal in Judea and Samaria."

The new construction and planning came under fire from the Yesha Council of settlements, which called it a "disappointment" and said the new units "don't meet demand."

Most of the units will get caught up in bureaucracy and won't be constructed, leaving just a few hundred that will, Yesha said in a statement. "Unfortunately, this is a deception meant to look like large-scale approval of construction, while in reality, as on previous occasions, only a few hundred will be built and the rest will only be planned."

"The American government has changed and Israel's policies also need to change. The Israeli government needs to approve all the plans currently on the table and issue bids to build in all of Judea and Samaria, Shomron and the Jordan Valley," said the statement.

The Palestinian Authority rejected the construction plan as a "deliberate provocation by Israel making a mockery of the international community."

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the decision "damages attempts to restore security and stability to the region and will encourage radicalization and terrorism, and place obstacles before any attempt to create a diplomatic process that would lead to peace and security."

Jordan also condemned the decision. A statement by the government spokesman, Mohammed al-Momani called the plans a violation of international law that seeks to undermine peace efforts and hurt Palestinian rights.

"It deals a tough blow to efforts to revive the peace process," Momani said. He urged the international community to put pressure on Israel to stop the construction.

The European Union called recent Israeli moves for construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem "regrettable," saying that they "further seriously undermine the prospects for a viable two-state solution."

"It is regrettable that Israel is proceeding with this policy, despite the continuous serious international concern and objections, which have been constantly raised at all levels," said the statement.

On Monday, Netanyahu informed the members of the inner security cabinet that he has decided to lift all restrictions on Israeli construction in East Jerusalem resulting from international diplomatic pressures, two senior officials who have been briefed on what transpired at the meeting said.

Netanyahu added that at the same time when construction plans would be promoted in East Jerusalem, he intends to also advance construction in West Bank settlement blocs.

The Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee on Sunday approved the construction of hundreds of building units beyond the Green Line, or the pre-1967 borders, in Jerusalem. Some of the committee’s hearings were postponed in recent weeks for fear of pressure from the Obama administration.

In recent years, every approval of this type brought on American condemnation and diplomatic pressures. As a result, building plans in the city have often been frozen, usually due to instructions received from the Prime Minister’s Office. In many cases the plans were removed from the agenda shortly before the hearings in order to prevent diplomatic crises with the Americans.

Peace Now strongly condemned the new housing plans, calling them a “desperate attempt” by Netanyahu to divert the agenda from the corruption cases against him and criticism from the right about the handling of Operation Protective Edge. Netanyahu is “leading Israel into a binational state reality. The price of this transparent spin of Netanyahu's will be exacted solely at the expense of Israeli citizens,” the organization said.

Gili Cohen and Yotam Berger contributed to this report.