Israel has granted preliminary approval to build more than 800 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank. The move complicates US-brokered peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians set to resume August 14.
An Israeli official with the military-run Civil Administration in the West Bank confirmed to the Reuters news agency on Thursday that initial plans to build 800 new settler homes had been approved on Wednesday. Final approval from the government is needed before actual construction can begin.
Peace Now, an Israeli settlement watchdog, said the actual number was over 1,000. Some 920 new homes are to be built, and 166 homes that had already been constructed without going through the proper procedures, were approved after-the-fact, the organization said.
Almost all countries, along with the United Nations, view Israeli settlements on Palestinian land as illegal.
Ongoing peace talks
The news could complicate the US-sponsored peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, which started again last month after a nearly three-year hiatus. On Thursday, the US State Department said that a second round of negotiations would begin August 14 in Jerusalem, followed by a meeting in the West Bank city of Jericho.
The Palestinians had previously demanded a halt on all settlement construction before peace talks could resume, but Israel rejects any preconditions.
Hanan Ashrawi, A Palestine Liberation Organization executive and former peace negotiator, told Reuters that Israel was "deliberately destroying the two-state solution and killing any sort of hope."
She added that the country was simply using the current talks as a "smokescreen" to build more settlements, and urged the US to work towards stopping them.
Peace Now said Israel's latest settlement approval "proves the government's less than genuine intentions to negotiate seriously."
The country has constructed dozens of settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war. They are now home to around 560,000 Israelis.
On Sunday, Israel placed 91 settlements on a national priority funding list. Last month, the Civil Administration approved the building of 732 new homes in the Modiin Ilit settlement, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
dr/pfd (Reuters, AFP, AP)