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Israel accelerates settlement construction, as Palestinians urge UN resolution

Plans for new West Bank homes have accelerated year on year despite reports of a freeze in settlement building
Israeli soldiers arrest an Israeli protester following a demonstration against settlements (AFP)

Israel has approved plans to build more homes in illegal West Bank settlements in the first three months of 2016 compared with the previous year, according to Peace Now.

The charity released data on Monday that showed Israeli authorities approved 499 new units in settlements between January and March, compared with 115 the previous year.

The data was compiled from the High Planning Council for Judea and Samaria – the Israeli authority that oversees construction in the occupied West Bank.

Peace Now said that in the first three months of 2016 Israel approved 72 percent of the total amount of new settlement homes approved in 2015.

Israeli authorities have also retroactively approved more illegal homes this year, which are houses that were built without proper permission but that are later legalised by the state.

In the first quarter of 2016, Israel legalised 175 homes compared with just 79 last year.

In the whole of 2015 Israeli authorities retroactively authorised 1,044 homes that were built illegally in West Bank settlements.

Hagit Ofran, of Peace Now’s settlement watch programme, said the news exposed that a widely reported freeze in West Bank settlement building was not accurate.

“[It is] not a freeze at all. Quietly and behind the scenes, West Bank construction is being promoted, including in isolated settlements,” he said, referring to settlements that are beyond the separation wall that divides Israel from the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas late on Monday urged the UN to act against settlement building.

"The Security Council is a very important subject because it has now become urgent due to settlement activities and because Israel has not stopped these activities," he told the AFP news agency in Ramallah.

Abbas was speaking before leaving for a two week tour of Turkey, France, Russia, Germany and New York, where the Palestinian delegation is discussing a draft resolution addressing settlements.

Abbas said that he hoped the US would change its approach at the Security Council. Washington has vetoed a number of resolutions criticising Israel.

"We were expecting from the US administration over the past eight years that it would take positive steps forward to achieve what America believes in, which is the two-state vision," he said.

"Until now, it hasn't happened from the US administration."

In Israel, settlement activists have defended the increase in building on occupied West Bank land, stating that the increase in planned new homes this year was still not enough for the communities.

Yigal Dilmoni, the deputy head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria, told the Jerusalem Post that "the 499 number is small in comparison to the real needs of communities".

“There is very little that is new here,” he added, explaining that many of the homes approved this year were old plans now put in place.

Statistics revealing how many settlement homes have been built so far in 2016 will not be made available until May or June, according to the Jerusalem Post, which reported that the Central Bureau of Statistics would publish them when prepared. 

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