Israel on Thursday put forward plans to build more than 4,000 settler homes in the occupied West Bank, a rights group said, a day after the army demolished homes in an area where hundreds of Palestinians are threatened with deportation.
It was a shocking illustration of Israel’s policy in the territory it has occupied for nearly 55 years. Critics, including three major human rights groups, say these policies amount to apartheid, a charge Israel dismisses as an attack on its very legitimacy.
Hagit Ofran, an expert with the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now, told The Associated Press that a military planning body approved 4,427 housing units at a Thursday meeting she attended. “The State of Israel has again stumbled into the abyss and has further deepened the occupation,” she tweeted.
Spokespersons for the Israeli government and military body in charge of civil affairs in the West Bank did not respond to requests for comment.
This is the biggest advancement of settlement projects since the Biden administration came to power. The White House opposes settlement building and sees it as an obstacle to any eventual peace agreement with the Palestinians.
There was no immediate comment from the administration on Thursday’s decision. But last week, when initial reports emerged of the settlement’s imminent approval, State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter reiterated that the United States “strongly” opposes the settlement. expansion of the colony.
UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland condemned the announcement, calling the settlements a “major obstacle to peace” that undermines hopes for a two-state solution.
“The continued expansion of settlements further strengthens the occupation, encroaches on Palestinian land and natural resources, and impedes the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal and supports a two-state solution to the conflict. But neither the United States nor other world powers have given Israel – the stronger party – any incentive to join such an arrangement. Israel says Palestinian leaders have rejected proposals from previous governments that would have given them a state.
Israel regards the West Bank as the biblical and historical heart of the Jewish people. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who once led the main settler organization, is opposed to a Palestinian state, but his government has taken steps to improve economic conditions for Palestinians.
Israel approved some 3,000 settler homes in October, brushing aside a rebuke from the United States, its closest ally. Peace talks with the Palestinians broke down more than a decade ago, in part because of Israel’s continued construction on the land the Palestinians want for a future state.
On Wednesday, Israeli troops demolished at least 18 buildings and structures in the West Bank following a Supreme Court ruling that would force at least 1,000 Palestinians out of an area designated by Israel as a firing range in the early 1980s.
B’Tselem, another Israeli rights group, said 12 residential buildings were among the structures that were demolished, in villages in the arid hills south of the West Bank city of Hebron.
Residents of Masafer Yatta say they have lived in the area, raising animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture for decades, long before Israel seized the West Bank in the 1967 war. sided with the military, which said there were no permanent structures in the area before it was designated a training area.
“What is happening now is ethnic cleansing,” local activist and resident Sami Huraini told the AP. “They are trying to kick people out of this land, saying they have never lived here permanently, which is a lie.”
He said residents of the area where the demolitions were carried out are determined to stay there. “People are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild,” he said.
The military declined to comment on the demolitions.
Neighboring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994, has condemned both settlement expansion and the forced displacement of Palestinians, calling it a “flagrant violation of international law”.
Israel has built more than 130 settlements across the West Bank which today house nearly 500,000 settlers, who have Israeli citizenship. Nearly 3 million Palestinians live in the territory under unlimited Israeli military rule. The Palestinian Authority exercises limited autonomy over parts of the West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security issues.
The Palestinians want the West Bank to form the main part of a future state, with East Jerusalem and Gaza, all territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in an internationally unrecognized move, and Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized power there in 2007.
Palestinians see settlement expansion in the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem as a major obstacle to any future peace deal, as it shrinks and divides the land on which such a state would be established.
Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed.