The United States and the European Union over the weekend accused Israel of harming the peace process by advancing plans to build 3,178 settler homes.
US President Donald Trump “has talked about this consistently and he has said, in his opinion, unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance the peace process,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington on Thursday.
“The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is important to this administration, and they will keep promoting that,” Nauert said. She spoke after the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria wrapped up three days of discussion on new West Bank settlement activity in which they advanced plans for 1,631 homes and authorized 1,547 units, according to data from the meetings compiled by the left-wing group Peace Now.
Sixty-nine percent of those structures are located within the boundaries of the security barrier, according to Peace Now.
The council’s actions last week bring the number of settler homes Israel has advanced and authorized so far this year to 7,721, according to Peace Now, which says this is almost triple the amount of settler activity that occurred in all of 2016. Its data show that 82% of the homes this year are within the boundaries of the security barrier and not in isolated settlements.
The European Union on Friday issued a statement charging that Israeli actions in “expanding the existing footprint of built-up areas further complicates the prospects for a viable two-state solution.
“Israel’s continued policy of settlement expansion is illegal under international law,” the EU said as it called on the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a final-status agreement to end the conflict.
“This is the only way to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of both parties and to achieve just and lasting peace,” it said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week made a number of statements explaining that settlement activity was not constrained, but that it should occur as much as possible within existing neighborhoods and create new ones only when necessary.
The spike in settler housing was initially a compensatory move by Netanyahu to assuage right-wing anger over the demolition of the Amona outpost in February.
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Israeli security forces moved against the small community of 40 families in February after the High Court of Justice ruled that the homes were illegally built on private Palestinian property and the government was unable to find a way to legalize the homes.
Right-wing politicians have complained that the authorizations have fallen far short of what the 130 West Bank settlements need, and constitute a de facto freeze.
The plans and approvals only dealt with 34 settlements, leaving the remaining 96 communities without any building activity for this year.
Right-wing politicians and settler leaders believe Trump does not see settlement activity as a stumbling bloc to peace and that the government can and should authorize more building.
In its report, Peace Now broke down the activity that has occurred so far this year.
The government published tenders for 2,812 homes, which is the last bureaucratic step needed before construction can begin to work in the field. None of those tenders was for homes in isolated settlements.
It’s the largest number of tenders to be published for settler homes in the last 15 years, according to Peace Now data, of the tenders published at the end of January and March.
In 2014, 2,359 tenders were published, and in 2003, 2,071.
In most other years, some 1,000 tenders or fewer were published, according to Peace Now data.
Last year, only 42 tenders were approved, Peace Now said, adding, however, that not all building projects require tenders.
The following settlements received tenders this year: 776 for Alfei Menashe, 709 for Betar Illit, 630 for Beit Aryeh, 552 for Givat Ze’ev, 90 for Ma’aleh Adumim, 52 for Karnei Shomron and three for Ariel.
Over the past six months, the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria met at the end of January, the start of February and in June. In all those meetings, it advanced and authorized plans for 4,909 homes in West Bank settlements, Peace Now said.
In all of 2016, the council advanced or authorized plans for only 2,657 settler homes.
Of the 4,909 plans the council promoted in 2017, authorizations were given for 2,030 homes. These include: 839 in Ariel, 343 in Talmon, 220 in Beit El, 142 in Oranit and 120 in Givat Ze’ev.
Plans for 1,002 homes were advanced in Ma’aleh Adumim, but only 25 homes have actually been authorized this year.