Israel reportedly plans to build over 1,700 new settlement homes in the West Bank and construct a fence between the occupied territory and Jordan. US Secretary of State John Kerry says the peace process isn't derailed.
Israel issued tenders for the construction of the homes on Sunday. A Housing Ministry spokesman put the number of homes at 1,729, while settlement watchdog Peace Now told the AFP news agency the number was 1,859.
The Palestinians have long said the settlement construction is detrimental to the peace process, and most countries view it as illegal. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has threatened to go to the UN Security Council over Israel's latest move.
"The PLO is considering a mechanism to go to the Security Council and the UN against these new Israeli decisions, especially as there are international resolutions that consider settlements illegal," PLO senior member Wassel Abu Youssef told AFP.
The planned construction come as part of the 3,500 settler homes announced on Wednesday when Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners, a government official said. A similar sequence of events occurred after an earlier prisoner release on August 13, when Israel announced more than 2,000 new settler homes after setting 26 inmates free.
"Whenever [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu makes a small step towards peace he makes two larger steps to make it harder to get peace," Peace Now said. "The tenders that were published today (Sunday) … will not only make the talks harder but would create facts on the ground that will make the two-state solution much harder."
Security fence reportedly planned
Also on Sunday, the Israeli newspaper Maariv reported that Netanyahu plans to build a security fence along the Jordan River, separating the West Bank from Jordan. Construction will begin immediately after a separate security fence currently being built on Israel's border with Egypt around the Red Sea resort of Eilat is finished.
The plan comes amid a dispute between the Israeli's and Palestinians over who should have control of the Jordan Valley. Netanyahu has said Israel should keep a military presence there even after a peace agreement, something the Palestinians have refused to accept.
In January of last year, Netanyhu had told ministers he would "strengthen barriers along his country's border with Jordan" in a bid to keep out migrants. A spokesman from his office refused to comment on the Maariv report.
Kerry attempts to calm peace process concern
Israel's latest controversial action comes just ahead of a visit by top US diplomat John Kerry. Speaking Sunday in Cairo on an 11-day tour that will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Kerry attempted to assure those concerned that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had not derailed.
"I remain hopeful, and we will make every effort in the United States to move the process forward in a fair-handed way, a balanced way that reflects the complexity of these issues," he said.
Kerry did concede, however, that settlement construction had complicated the process.
"There is no doubt … that the settlements have disturbed people's perceptions of whether or not people are serious and are moving in the right direction."
dr/rc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)