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Israel approves new West Bank housing, just weeks after 'peace' deals with UAE, Bahrain

Gulf normalisation agreements were initially advertised as hinging on a freeze in settlement construction
New apartments buildings under construction in the Beit El settlement in the occupied the West Bank (AFP)

Israel has approved the construction of new homes in its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank just weeks after signing normalisation agreements with the UAE and Bahrain.

According to official figures sent to AFP, 2,166 new homes in settlements across the West Bank were approved on Wednesday, ending an eight-month lull in settlement expansion.

The latest plans, for a total of more than 4,000 new homes, are on the agenda on Wednesday and Thursday at a session of the top planning committee of Israel's Civil Administration, the military body which oversees civil affairs in the occupied West Bank. 

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This comes despite pledges in last month's normalisation deals that Israel would halt the expansion of settlements in occupied territories, which are illegal under international law.

Israeli NGO Peace Now called the uptick in settlement construction a signal of Israel's rejection of Palestinian statehood, dealing a blow to hopes of a wider regional peace.

It added that around 2,000 more homes are expected to be approved on Thursday.

"[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is moving ahead at full steam toward solidifying the de facto annexation of the West Bank," the organisation said in a statement ahead of Wednesday's decision.

US President Donald Trump has portrayed the joint Israeli, Emirati and Bahraini deal - also known as the Abraham Accords - as part of his broader initiative for Middle East peace.

But a controversial plan unveiled by Washington in January gave US blessing to Israeli annexation of vast swathes of the West Bank, including settlements - offering only fragmented territory for the creation of a Palestinian state with no sovereignty over its borders and airspace. 

Israel reportedly agreed to delay those plans under its normalisation deal with the UAE, something Emirati officials have cited in response to Arab and Muslim criticism.

But shortly after the deal between Israel and the UAE was announced, Netanyahu said the agreement did not nullify the provisions of Trump’s contested "deal of the century" plan

"According to the American plan, Israel will win 30 percent of Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank) - ten times what it was in other plans - without displacing any settlement and territories, which are necessary for Israel's security. This is the American plan. It has not changed," Netanyahu told newspaper Israel HaYom in August.

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Bahrain and the UAE are only the third and fourth Arab states to normalise relations with Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. Both the Netanyahu and Trump administrations have hinted that other states may follow suit.

The Palestinian leadership has condemned the accords and quit the rotating presidency of the Arab League in protest at its failure to take a stand against normalisation.

The Gulf agreements broke with years of Arab League policy on the Israeli occupation, which made its resolution a precondition for normalising ties with Israel.

End to two-states

Peace Now noted that the plans were approved for submission by Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party who serves as defence minister in a coalition government led by the right-wing Netanyahu.

With Gantz's participation, "Israel will be signalling to the world its bipartisan support for the end to the concept of a two-state solution and a Palestinian state," Peace Now said.

Netanyahu has embarked on a new settlement push "instead of taking advantage of the agreements with the Gulf states and promoting peace with the Palestinians", it added.

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Excluding occupied East Jerusalem, more than 450,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank, where some 2.7 million Palestinians reside.

Among settlements to grow under the latest approvals is Har Gilo, located in the southern West Bank between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

With a current population of about 1,600, Wednesday's decision gave it 560 new homes.

Peace Now said that several wildcat settlements, built without official Israeli government authorisation, are also being approved retroactively.

Israel sees such approval as conferring legality.