Despite U.S. Peace Push, Israel Pursuing Expansion of West Bank Settlement

A plan to expand and legalize construction in two West Bank settlements is moving forward at a critical moment for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts for peace.

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Israel is continuing with a plan to expand over 1,000 units in the West Bank settlements Itamar and Bruchin, despite United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

An Israeli settlers' council has asked Israeli planning authorities to approve the building of 550 housing units in Bruchin, an unauthorized outpost established in 1998 in the northern West Bank that was granted legal status by Israel last year.

The extent of Bruchin's expansion, where some 350 settlers live, had not been disclosed previously. The officials said planning authorities also received a plan from the council for the construction of 537 residential units in the settlement of Itamar, along with the retroactive legalization of 130 homes built there without permits.

The plan to build these homes was with the planning authorities this week and has reached the stage in the approval process when people present objections.

The document outlining the plan does not mention the string of illegal outposts in an area near Itamar where the state has avoided enforcing planning and building laws for the past 15 years.

The plan was approved in September by then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Itamar was founded in 1984 southeast of the northern Palestinian city of Nablus, but no official building plan has ever been approved for the settlement. After five members of the Fogel family were killed in their beds in Itamar in March 2011, the state was moved to help the community, including by legalizing construction.

Kerry has been working to thaw the frozen negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians since he took office at the beginning of the year.

A senior American official told Reuters in June that if Israelis and Palestinians are not serious about the peace process, Kerry will abandon his efforts.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed reports that municipal planning officials in Jerusalem said construction was in practice on hold in Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line.

“Construction in communities in Judea and Samaria will continue and is continuing today, but we must be aware of what is happening around us,” Netanyahu said. “We must be smart, not just right.

The Jewish settlement of Itamar behind the West Bank village of Awarta on March 12, 2011.Credit: AFP

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