Israel’s Defense Ministry announced on Monday that the construction of 800 additional settler homes in the occupied West Bank territory had been given the go-ahead, invoking swift criticism from parties involved in the peace process with the Palestinians.
The new construction, which is not expected to begin for several months, would take place north of Jerusalem, in the settlements of Givat Salit, Shilo, Nofei Prat, Givat Zeev and Nodkim and involve 831 new homes.
A spokesman for Peace Now, an organization which tracks settlement construction, denounced the decision.
"This is yet another move that threatens to derail the peace process," said Lior Amihai.
The new housing comes only two weeks after the Israeli government seemingly backtracked on another building project that would have seen some 20,000 additional units go up in the West Bank.
The plan, the largest ever of its kind, immediately drew condemnation from Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who had instructed one of his chief negotiators with Israel to communicate that such a project would in no uncertain terms end the peace process recently re-launched under US Secretary of State John Kerry in July.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the unusual move to cancel the new settlement building project. At the time, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki had expressed American disappointment at continued settlement activity in the occupied territories.
“Every administration in recent memory has said that the settlements are illegitimate,” Psaki said, “so it’s been a pretty consistent position for quite some time now.”
The latest announcement for additional housing units has already drawn accusations by Palestinians that it was in retaliation to a deal brokered between the US, Iran and the P5+1 group over the weekend to reign in the Islamic Republic’s nascent nuclear program.
PM Netanyahu, who has maintained that Iranian negotiations are only a ploy to stall the West as it assembles a nuclear weapons program, called the agreement a “historic mistake.” Israel’s position continues to demand an outright halt to any uranium enrichment activities, which this weekend’s brokered deal does not seem to prevent.
President Mahmoud Abbas's top aide, Nabil Abu Rdeineh, condemned the new housing as a “policy of escalation aimed at putting obstacles in front of the peace process,” and suggested the announcement served as Netanyahu’s response to the US-Iran nuclear accord. The Prime Minister "shouldn't settle his scores with the United States at the expense of our people," Rdeineh told Reuters.
Plans for the housing project, however, had been in motion since earlier in November, while such settlement projects are often embroiled in extended political wrangling.
Approximately 520,000 Israelis, or 7 percent of the country’s total population, currently live in areas claimed by Palestinians as part of a future state, which have slowly been annexed by the State of Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War and subsequent construction projects. Settlement activity has continued in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights.