Occupied Jerusalem: Israel has given approval for hundreds of new homes in West Bank Jewish colonies in a move likely to spark tension ahead of a top-level visit by US President Barack Obama, officials and an NGO said on Monday.
On Sunday, the Israeli defence ministry confirmed that it had given the green light for the construction of 346 new homes in two Jews-only colonies in the southern West Bank, Tekoa and Nokdim.
“The defence ministry has approved plans for 200 housing units in Tekoa and 146 housing units in Nokdim,” the ministry said.
Tekoa and Nokdim are two small isolated colonies deep in the southern West Bank which are located in the “Gush Etzion” bloc south of occupied Jerusalem that Israel wants to keep hold of in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Israel later gave final approval for a further 90 homes in the Beit El colony near Ramallah, officials at a colony watchdog said.
Hagit Ofran of the Peace Now colony watchdog said the plans had been published for validation in an Israeli newspaper in what was the “final stage of approval”, meaning construction of the new homes could begin “within a few days.”
The plans were signed off by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in August but received the final rubber stamp on Sunday by the Civil Administration’s planning committee, she said.
Late last year, the defence ministry approved plans for another 523 colony homes in another part of Gush Etzion, in what was the first step toward a new colony in the area.
The latest swathe of approvals came as a United Nations report called on Israel to immediately start withdrawing colonists from the Palestinian territories, saying the colonies caused the Palestinians’ human rights to be “violated consistently and on a daily basis.”
Israel has come under widespread international criticism for ramping up its construction of colonies in the Palestinian territories, particularly in recent months when it has pushed forward with plans for more than 5,000 new Jews-only homes in occupied east Jerusalem.
The move comes just days after the White House announced that Obama would make his first-ever visit to Israel as president on a trip expected to take place in late March.
The “Beit El” construction plans were hurriedly put together as a compensatory measure for colonists who were evicted last year from Ulpana, a colony outpost on the outskirts of Beit El which was evacuated following a High Court ruling because it was not officially authorised by Israeli occupation authorities.
A Civil Administration spokesman confirmed the approval for the 90 units, saying they had been signed off by the political establishment.
“We’re talking about the validation of a project which was already approved in August... in the framework of orders from the political establishment after the High Court decision,” he said.
Ofran said it meant the bulldozers could now get to work immediately. “They can start building within a few days,” she said.