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Israel to approve permits for illegal settlement expansion in West Bank

Netanyahu's right-wing coalition set to approve the housing units despite opposition from Washington
Israeli soldiers guarding the illegal Ariel settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank in October 2021(AFP)

Israel's far-right government plans to approve thousands of building permits for illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, despite pressure from the United States to halt settlement expansion. 

The agenda for Israel's Supreme Planning Council meeting next week included plans to discuss 4,560 housing units across the West Bank. 

Of those, 1,332 are up for approval, with the remainder going through the preliminary clearance process.

"We will continue to develop the settlement of and strengthen the Israeli hold on the territory," said the far-right finance minister Bezatel Smotrich, who has a leading role in occupied West Bank affairs due to his additional defence portfolio. 

International law deems Israeli settlements built on the occupied West Bank since 1967 to be illegal.

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Since coming to power in December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right coalition has approved the building of 7,000 new housing units, mainly in the West Bank. 

Netanyahu's administration has also amended laws that had previously prohibited settlers from returning to four settlements in the occupied West Bank that were evacuated in 2005: Homesh, Sa-Nur, Kadim and Ganim. 

Following Sunday's decision, the Palestinian Authority said it would boycott a scheduled meeting of the Joint Economic Committee with Israel on Monday.

Washington opposes new settlements 

Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden's administration repeated its criticism of Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, following a report that Israel planned to announce the building of thousands of housing units.

During a press briefing on Monday, the White House's national security spokesperson John Kirby would not confirm if the Israeli government informed the administration about its plans to announce settlement expansion. However, Kirby said that American policy opposed any unilateral decisions to advance settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Axios reported on Monday that Israel informed the US that it planned to build 4,000 housing units in several existing occupied West Bank settlements.

The report comes after Netanyahu's government shelved plans to expand a settlement east of Jerusalem, which, if constructed, would divide the West Bank in two.

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