Israel on Thursday approved the construction of more than 4,000 new homes for Jews in the West Bank, according to anti-settlement watchdog group, Peace Now.
The new housing projects, in their different stages of permits and development, reportedly received a green light at a meeting of a sub-committee of the Israeli Civil Administration.
Hagit Ofran, who works at Peace Now, said that the planning body approved 4,427 housing units at a meeting she attended.
“The State of Israel stumbled toward the abyss today and deepened its occupation,” Ofran said on Twitter. “The Supreme Planning Council concluded the discussion and approved plans for 4,427 housing units in the settlements. There is no Israeli interest in this, only the fervor of taking over territories that in the end we will all pay the price for.”
U.N. Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland condemned the announcement, calling the settlements a “major obstacle to peace” that undermines hopes for an eventual peace deal with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” said Wennesland.
The new construction is considered the biggest advancement of settlement projects since U.S.President Joe Biden took office in January 2021 and is getting underway just a few weeks prior to his visit to Israel.
In recent weeks, the Biden administration has expressed its opposition to new construction in the West Bank through various channels.
Israeli journalist Barak Ravid reported on Axios that U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and other Biden administration officials have asked the Israeli government not to move ahead with new building in the West Bank.
Last week, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jalina Porter reiterated that the U.S. “strongly” opposes settlement expansion.
The White House is aware, however, of the complexity of the situation for the current Israeli government and its fragile coalition. If new construction had not been approved, chances are high that the government’s days would have been numbered.
Knesset Member Nir Orbach, from Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, had demanded that construction be promoted. He said on Thursday that the measure was approved “at a good time.”
“We continue to strengthen and expand settlement at every point in Judea and Samaria. Wide settlement makes Israel stronger and more secure,” Orbach said.
He thanked Bennett for his “professional and dedicated push,” as well as Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his staff for “planning the implementation and cooperation.”
Israeli government officials claim that the U.S. administration has pressured the Israeli government to decrease the number of housing units approved for construction, according to Ynet news.
Biden, so far, has not changed his plans to visit the region in light of the new development. But in an unprecedented move, he is planning a visit to a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem. Such a visit would signify that the U.S. administration is standing by the Palestinians and their opposition to Israeli sovereignty over the eastern part of the holy city. Even the last two U.S. Democratic presidents, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, did not visit East Jerusalem when they visited Israel.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.