West Bank (In Palestine Today)- Israel approved plans for 1,300 new settlement units in the occupied West Bank, in the first move of its kind since US President Joe Biden took office.
The Israeli Ministry of Construction and Housing announced on Sunday that tenders had been published for 1,355 homes in West Bank settlements, which exist in contravention of international law.
Sunday’s announcement marks the final step in the process before construction on the units actually begins.
The plans approved 729 units in the mega Ariel settlement (Salfit district), 324 in Beit El (Ramallah), 102 in Elkana (Salfit), as well as units in in Geva Binyamin (Ramallah), Immanuel, Karnei Shomron and Beitar Illit (Bethlehem), Haaretz reported.
“I welcome the promotion of more than 1,000 housing units. I will continue to strengthen the Jewish settlement in [the West Bank],” Construction and Housing Minister Zeev Elkin said of the plans.
According to Haaretz, the ministry also announced plans to “double the Jewish population in the Jordan Valley by 2026,” promising to advertise 1,500 new housing units in the area.
Under the leadership of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel made big strides in its efforts to illegally annex the Jordan Valley, despite widespread condemnation from the international community.
The announcement drew swift condemnations from Palestinian and regional Arab leaders, who called on their international counterparts, particularly the US, to pressure Israel to halt the plans.
Leading up to the announcement, however, the US failed to explicitly condemn settlement expansion, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying on Friday that the US was “concerned” about the plans, and called on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to “refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tension and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.”
UN envoy to the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned” about the approval of the tenders, and the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.
“I reiterate that all settlements are illegal under international law, remain a substantial obstacle to peace, and must cease immediately,” Wennesland said.
Sunday’s announcement pushing forward the plans came on the heels of Israel’s decision to label six Palestinian civil society organizations as “terrorist institutions,” a move that drew swift and widespread condemnation from local and international human rights groups and leaders.
According to Haaretz, the decision to move forward with the 1,300 plans, along with the attack on the civil society organizations is causing tension within Israel’s governing coalition, led by its right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennet.
Israel’s left-wing parties reportedly expressed their disagreement over the moves, demanding that Bennet “put the brakes” on settlement expansion and potentially legalizing and re-establishing the Evyatar outpost in Beita, a move right-wing lawmakers are still pushing for, Haaretz said.
More settlement units on the table
While coalition heads are expected to meet at the end of this week to “iron out” differences, another meeting is expected to convene on Wednesday, during which an additional 2,862 settlement units could be approved for construction in the West Bank.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now said in a report that the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration (HPC) will convene this Wednesday, 10/27/21, to discuss approving 30 plans for 2,862 units in the settlements.
Last August, Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved the convening of the HPC to discuss the plans in question, though due to a strike declared by workers of the Civil Administration, the plans were tabled.
At the time, the plans consisted of 1,956 units scattered across West Bank settlements. This time around, more than 1,000 new units were added to the plans, totaling 2,862.
The plans to be discussed on Wednesday are separate from the 1,300 units approved on Sunday.
According to Peace Now, among the plans to be discussed on Wednesday are the retroactive legalization of two settler outposts, which were built illegally without any official permits from the Israeli government.
Among the outposts to be legalized are the plans for “Michmach East,” located close to the land of Khan al-Ahmar, the Palestinian bedouin village which Israel has repeatedly attempted to demolish completely, arguing that it exists “illegally.”
In additional to the plans for 2,862 settlement units, the HPC will in a rare move discuss plans for 1,303 units for Palestinians in Area C — the more than 60% of the West Bank where Israel has barred any Palestinian construction (while allowing for settlement construction).
Peace Now noted, however, that most of the Palestinian units that are on the table for approval have already been built and are seeking to be legalized, meaning that the plans will actually see very few new Palestinian homes being built.
“It is important to note that almost all the plans have been on the HPC’s table for many years and are awaiting approval, along with many other plans for Palestinians,” Peace Now said, adding that if the plans are approved, it is “a drop in the ocean in terms of real Palestinian development needs.”
“It should be noted that even permit applications for Palestinians under existing approved plans (usually according to the old British plans) are almost universally rejected,” the group said.