Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that plans be put forward to build around 800 houses for illegal Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.
Monday’s announcement comes just days before the Jan. 20 inauguration of Joe Bide who, unlike Donald Trump, has criticized Israel’s settlement policy in the past.
“The prime minister has ordered the construction of hundreds of houses in Judea and Samaria to proceed,” said the statement released by Netanyahu’s office, using the biblical names of the occupied West Bank.
Monday’s statement said the 800 units would be built in the settlements of Beit El, Tal Menashe, Rehelim, Shavei Shomron, Barkan, Karnei Shomron and Givat Zeev, but did not give a start date for the construction.
Under international law, settlements are considered illegal.
Palestinian officials and much of the international community see them as the main obstacle to a viable two-state solution.
The Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry condemned the latest announcement, accusing Israel of “running against time” to build settlements before Trump leaves office.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the announcement of Israel’s settlement plans “does not create an environment conducive to the resumption of negotiations which are the only path to a two-state solution.”
In a joint statement with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Germany and France, Safadi called on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities, including by [occupied] East Jerusalem “.
Trump, a staunch ally of Netanyahu, has taken a series of steps since taking office in January 2017 that have been criticized as “racist” and “discriminatory” against the Palestinian people.
His administration provided unprecedented U.S. support for settler groups, evidenced by a statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2019 that Washington no longer viewed settlements as a violation of international law.
According to the Peace Now watchdog group, 2020 has been one of the most prolific years for illegal settlement building.
Last year, the number of approvals was by far the highest since Trump took office and the highest since Peace Now began recording the numbers in 2012.
But Biden has indicated that his administration will restore the US policy opposed to the expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
He also pledged a more equitable approach in which he will restore aid to the Palestinians that was cut off by Trump and work to revive peace negotiations.
“ Cease all establishment activities ”
Netanyahu, meanwhile, faces re-election on March 23, Israel’s fourth vote in just under two years.
A series of recent polls indicate the veteran prime minister faces a right-wing challenge from pro-settler candidate Gideon Saar, who left Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party last month to run against the Prime Minister.
Netanyahu is generally expected to do a series of plays for the right-wing votes, including beefing up his pro-settlements credentials, ahead of the vote, according to Israeli political analysts.
Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, who hopes to overthrow Netanyahu in March, called the settlement announcement “not irresponsible” that would lead to a “battle” with the new US administration.
Palestinian leaders claim all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, as part of a future independent state.
They say the growing population of illegal Israeli settlers, approaching 500,000 in the West Bank, has made it increasingly difficult to fulfill their demand for independence.
Netanyahu’s order to move settlement construction forward is not final, as the process must pass through several bureaucratic phases and possible legal challenges from anti-occupation groups before any construction begins.