Israel approves 2,700 housing units in illegal West Bank settlements

Israel has approved 2,700 housing units in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and advanced plans for another 1,600, a military body has said, a move likely to displease Washington before an expected visit to the region next month by the US president, Joe Biden.

An Israeli Civil Administration subcommittee meeting on Thursday approved the building plans and retroactively “legalised” two outposts in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control. The news came a day after the Israeli military demolished Palestinian homes in an area where about 1,000 people face the threat of eviction to make way for a military training zone.

Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, approximately 600,000 to 750,000 Jewish settlers have moved to live on land in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The practice is considered by most of the international community to be illegal, and a major impediment to achieving lasting peace. Under Israeli law, outposts are defined as settlements built without authorisation from the Israeli government.

Settler communities are granted permission to build permanent structures connected to the electrical grid and water supply, while building permits for Palestinians living alongside them are almost always denied. Many Palestinians live under the constant threat of eviction, and face a rising tide of settler violence designed to displace them from their homes.

Thursday’s batch of approvals is the biggest advancement of settlement plans since Biden took office. During Donald Trump’s administration, there was a 150% growth in settlement compared with during Barack Obama’s second term. Biden’s White House, however, is opposed to settlements, which it says undercut the viability of a two-state solution.

Israeli officials have denied local media reports that Washington had conditioned the US president’s June visit on there being no new announcements of settlement construction.

There was no immediate comment from the Palestinians or the US on the settlement approvals.

They came on the heels of Wednesday’s demolition of Palestinian homes and structures in Masafer Yatta, a cluster of villages in an area south of Hebron that Israel has designated as a military training zone.

After a two-decade legal dispute, Israel’s high court said last week that about 1,000 Palestinians in Masafer Yatta could be evicted. The ruling is one of the single biggest expulsion decisions since the occupation began.

Israel’s ideologically diverse government, which was sworn in last June, encompasses leftists who oppose settlement building; rightwingers, such as the prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who previously led a settler lobbying group; and, for the first time, members of an Arab party.

Initially united by their desire to remove from office the longtime former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and end four years of political turmoil, an agreement to focus on areas of common ground in governance has faltered when it comes to the occupation.

The opening of the Knesset’s summer session this week was hit by immediate turbulence. The ruling coalition recently lost its already narrow majority, while a wave of violence – much of it focused on Jerusalem’s sensitive al-Aqsa compound – led the United Arab List, or Ra’am, faction to suspend its cooperation.

The Ra’am leader, Mansour Abbas, said on Wednesday that his party had for now decided to continue its partnership with the government for the benefit of Israel’s Palestinian minority of 2 million people, thwarting opposition initiatives this week to pass no-confidence votes in the Knesset.

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