The United States says it is “deeply disturbed” by the Israeli government’s submission of plans to approve thousands of building permits in the occupied West Bank, and calls on Israel to return to dialogue aimed at de-escalation.
Plans for approval of 4,560 housing units in various areas of the West Bank have been included on the agenda of the Israeli Supreme Council for Planning, which meets next week, although there are only 1,332 housing units for final approval, while the rest is still subject to the initial approval process.
“We will continue to develop settlements and strengthen Israeli control over the land,” said Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also holds a defense portfolio that gives him a leading role in managing the West Bank.
Most countries consider the settlements built on lands Israel occupied in 1967 illegal. Their existence is one of the main issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestinians seek to establish their own independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Peace talks brokered by the US have been frozen since 2014.
The US State Department said it was “deeply disturbed” by the latest move, which comes despite US pressure to stop settlement expansion, which Washington considers an obstacle to peace. It called on Israel to return to dialogue aimed at stopping the escalation.
“As has been longstanding policy, the United States opposes such unilateral measures that make achieving a two-state solution more difficult and are an obstacle to peace,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.
Since taking office in January, the national-religious coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved the upgrade of more than 7,000 new housing units, most of them deep in the West Bank.
It also amended a law to pave the way for settlers to return to four previously evacuated settlements.
In response to Sunday’s Israeli decision, the Palestinian Authority – which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank – said it would boycott a joint economic committee meeting with Israel scheduled for Monday.
The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, after Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers, condemned the move, saying it “will not surrender.” [Israel] legitimacy on our land. Our people will resist it by all means.”
Jewish settler groups welcomed the announcement.
“People have chosen to continue building in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley, and that is the way it should be,” said Shlomo Neeman, mayor of Gush Etzion and head of the Yesha Council. Names for the West Bank.