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Israel announces new settler homes 10 days before Biden's inauguration

Netanyahu criticised for inflammatory move ahead of March elections
Palestinians protest against Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank (Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the construction of 800 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, a sign that the huge expansion of illegal settlements over the past four years may continue unabated during Joe Biden's presidency.

Netanyahu, who used Donald Trump's four years in office to pursue staunchly right-wing and pro-settler policies, is back on the campaign trail, as he seeks to secure victory in a March election.

The prime minister said the new settlement homes would include 100 in Tal Menashe, a settlement where an Israeli woman was killed last month in an attack allegedly carried out by a Palestinian. 

Backed by the White House, Israel has pursued a policy of constructing settlements in places where Israelis have been attacked by Palestinians, as revenge.

Israeli opposition politician Yair Lapid described the settlement plans as "irresponsible" and warned they would create new divisions with Biden's administration, which takes office on 20 January.

'The Biden administration has not yet taken office, and the government is already leading us into an unnecessary confrontation'

- Yair Lapid, opposition politician

“The Biden administration has not yet taken office, and the government is already leading us into an unnecessary confrontation,” Lapid tweeted. 

“The national interest must also be maintained during elections.”

Biden opposes Israeli settlement expansion and previously clashed with Israel over the issue. He has vowed to restore aid to the Palestinians, which was cut by Trump, and work to revive peace talks. 

Last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the first US diplomat to visit a West Bank settlement, which are illegal under international law.

Pompeo announced new requirements for settlement products to be labelled as "Made in Israel" during his visit. 

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced the announcement, calling it a "violation of international law and international resolutions, and ... an attempt to legitimise [settlements]". 

In Europe, products from Israeli settlements are explicitly labelled as made in occupied land, despite legal challenges. Israel has strongly objected to European Union policy as being "political and discriminating against Israel".