JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel approved more than 1,300 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday in the first such go-ahead since it suspended annexation plans in the territory.
The decision drew an angry response from Palestinians, who seek to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
“We urge the international community to intervene immediately to stop this settlement madness, which destroys any chance for a genuine peace process,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The construction could help mute criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from settler leaders, who are traditional allies.
They had bristled at the annexation suspension that helped pave the way for last month’s deals to forge diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Video: US, Iran tensions: How did we get here? (USA TODAY)
Israel’s West Bank Civil Administration planning committee gave final approval for building 1,313 housing units in several settlements, it said in a statement. Plans for another 853 units were advanced but have not yet been given final approval.
A statement from Beit El settlement said 350 new housing units would be built there. It hailed the committee’s decision as “a tremendous achievement for Beit El”.
The forum, which last held such a hearing eight months ago, was due to reconvene on Thursday to advance additional projects in settlements, its publicly available agenda showed.
Peace Now, an Israeli settlement watchdog, said that in total the committee was set to move forward with projects comprising more than 4,000 new settler homes.
Most countries view settlements Israel has built in territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal and as an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The United States and Israel dispute this.
Israel cites historical and biblical links to the West Bank and around 450,000 of its settlers live there, among 3 million Palestinians.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Mike Collett-White)