Israel Advances Thousands of Settlement Homes Despite Harsh U.S. Rebuke

Blinken told Defense Minister Gantz that if Israel advances the settlements, it would be met with a severe response from America

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A construction site in Efrat, in the West Bank, in March.
A construction site in Efrat, in the West Bank, in March.Credit: Emil Salman

Israel’s Civil Administration advanced on Wednesday plans to build thousands of housing units in West Bank settlements, a first during U.S. President Joe Biden's tenure.

The plan involves 3,144 housing units, 1,344 of which were approved on Wednesday, with the rest set to be approved at a later day.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Defense Minister Benny Gantz and urged him to cancel the meeting to approve the plan. Blinken informed Gantz that if Israel advanced the settlements, the decision would be met with a harsh response from America.

Gantz responded by saying that Israel is advancing a "balanced" construction plan, since Israel is not promoting all the construction plans on the table, and is also advancing a series of concessions to the Palestinians.

The defense minister mentioned Israel's plans to approve and promote 1,300 units in Palestinian towns and villages in Area C, the section of the West Bank under full Israeli civil and security control.

This is the largest number of housing units Israel has promoted for Palestinians in over a decade. The committee will convene to discuss these plans on Sunday.

"The behavior of the Israeli government under Bennett is no less extreme than what it had been under Netanyahu," Bassam Al-Salhe, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters on Wednesday.

"The U.S. administration has words, and no deeds, to change the policy that had been put in place by Trump," Salhe said.

Israel's decision to advance thousands of housing units comes a day after the Biden administration strongly condemned Israel's plans in its firmest public rebuke of Israeli policy to date.

Construction in the Israeli settlement of Rahalim, south of Nablus, earlier this month.Credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP

Senior U.S. officials told Naftali Bennett's office in discreet talks that their concerns mainly relate to the expected construction in the depths of Palestinian territory. The messages were conveyed, among other avenues, from the office of U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

"We are deeply concerned about the Israeli government's plan to advance thousands of settlement units, many of them deep in the West Bank," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

"In addition, we're concerned about the publication of tenders on Sunday for 1,300 settlement units in a number of West Bank settlements," Price added, referring to Israel's decision to invite bids for the construction of 1,355 housing units in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The issuing of bidding process is the last step before the government begins building the units, which have been practically approved.

"We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm, and it damages the prospects for a two-state solution. We have been consistent and clear in our statements to this effect," Price said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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