Occupied Jerusalem: Israel has given preliminary approval for the construction of more than 800 new homes in Jewish colonies on occupied West Bank land where Palestinians seek statehood, an Israeli official said on Thursday.
The move could complicate US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which resumed last month after an almost three-year freeze over the colony dispute and whose second round is expected to take place next week.
Guy Inbar, spokesman for Israel’s military-run Civil Administration in the West Bank, said initial plans to build 800 new settler homes were approved on Wednesday, though actual construction would require a green light from the government.
“This is a lengthy process,” said Inbar, who did not immediately provide further details on the plans. Peace Now, an Israeli anti-colony watchdog, put the number of new homes discussed by the Civil Administration on Wednesday at 1,096 and said they were earmarked for 11 colonies — some of them located deep within the West Bank. Israel insists it would annex major West Bank colony blocs, which are mainly situated close to the Israeli border, under any peace accord with the Palestinians.
Most world powers regard all the colonies as illegal and Palestinians say the enclaves could deny them a viable and contiguous state. Palestinian officials did not immediately comment on the new colony initiative, which surfaced as Muslims celebrated the festival of Eid Al Fitr.
Some 500,000 Israeli colonists live in the West Bank and East Occupied Jerusalem, areas captured in the 1967 Middle East war, amid 2.5 million Palestinians.
Israel withdrew in 2005 from the Gaza Strip, which is now governed by Hamas. On Sunday, the rightist Israeli government put 91 colonies on a national priority funding list, adding six to a roster of dozens of enclaves already eligible for supplemental state cash.
Last month, while US Secretary of State John Kerry was on a peace-brokering visit to the region, the Civil Administration granted initial approval for construction of 732 new homes in Modiin Ilit, a colony midway between Occupied Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.