Israel defense chief plans 2,500 new West Bank settler homes

Israel defense chief plans 2,500 new West Bank settler homes
Israel defense chief plans 2,500 new West Bank settler homes

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel’s defense minister said Thursday he will seek approval next week to fast-track construction of 2,500 new West Bank settlement homes in 2018, an announcement likely to further ratchet up tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Avigdor Lieberman’s office said in a statement that he aimed to fulfill a commitment to expand construction in the West Bank settlements, including some remote outposts and the Jewish settler enclave in the West Bank city of Hebron.

In addition to the 2,500, Lieberman said he will advance another 1,400 units that are currently in preliminary planning stages.

“In the coming months, we will bring for approval thousands more housing units,” Lieberman said, according to the statement.

The announcement came two days after Palestinians urged the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, to open an investigation into Israeli policies in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, including settlement construction, accusing Israel of systematic crimes, including apartheid in the occupied territories.

Israel has called the Palestinian move “legally invalid.” Israel is not a member of the ICC and argues the court does not have jurisdiction.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and has since built dozens of settlements there. Over 600,000 Israelis now live in east Jerusalem and West Bank settlements, areas Palestinians seek for their future state.

Much of the international community views the settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel says the fate of settlements must be resolved through negotiations.

The referral to the ICC would seem to further diminish prospects of success for an expected U.S. peace plan. U.S. officials have said President Donald Trump is to unveil the plan in the coming months.

The last round of U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down four years ago without any visible process, and mistrust between the two sides is running high.

Israeli watchdog group Peace Now reported earlier this year that settlement construction has surged under the Trump administration, which has taken a softer stance than his predecessors. Trump has asked Israel to show restraint, but has avoided strong condemnations of Israeli settlement construction. His Mideast peace team is dominated by people with ties to the settlement movement.

Peace Now responded to Lieberman’s announcement, calling it a “scandal” and saying on Twitter that the “messianic right-wing government has distorted priorities, and this morning is proud to approve thousands of new housing units over the Green Line, and gives an incentive to continued creeping annexation.”

File – In this Tuesday, July 8, 2014 file photo, Palestinians try to salvage what they can of their belongings from the rubble of a house destroyed by an overnight Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. The Palestinians on Tuesday asked the International Criminal Court to open an immediate investigation into Israeli practices in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip _ setting off a process that they hope will culminate with war crimes accusations against Israeli leaders. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)