May 6, 2022 - World

Israel to approve 4,000 housing units for Jewish settlers in occupied West Bank

This picture taken on July 16, 2021 shows a view of the Israeli settlement of Efrat on the southern outskirts of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank
A view of the Israeli settlement of Efrat on the southern outskirts of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank in 2021. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Israel next week will approve the planning and building of 4,000 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli Ministry of Defense said on Friday.

Why it matters: The announcement comes as preparations are underway for President Biden’s visit to Israel, which is expected to take place in the last two weeks of June.

  • The move is a response to an ultimatum by a lawmaker from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s party who threatened to leave the fragile coalition if new building in the settlements wasn't approved.

Driving the news: The special committee that approves new buildings in the settlements will convene next week, according to the Ministry of Defense announcement.

  • It is expected to give permits for the building of 2,500 new housing units in the settlements and move forward with initial planning of another 1,500 housing units.
  • A senior Israeli official said the committee is expected to convene separately to approve the building and planning of another 1,000 new housing units for Palestinians in the West Bank.

Behind the scenes: Another senior Israeli official said the Israeli Prime Minister’s office and the Ministry of Defense had several discussions with Tom Nides, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, and White House and State Department officials in the last two weeks about the upcoming settlements move.

  • Israeli officials told Biden administration officials that if no new building was approved in the settlements, the government could collapse due to the fragile state of the coalition, the official told Axios. They had also stressed that the move would take place after Ramadan, the official added.

Nides told Axios he and other Biden administration officials have made it clear to the Israeli government that the administration is opposed to new building in the settlements and asked it not to move ahead with it.

  • Due to the Biden administration pressure, the Israeli government decided to decrease the number of new housing units it approved from 5,800 to 4000, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the issue.
  • One of the senior Israeli officials said the decision to make the announcement Friday and to convene the committee next week was done to have the biggest margin of time possible ahead of Biden’s visit.
  • The Israeli government had considered making the announcement earlier this week, but held back because of a visit by the White House advance team that came to prepare the president’s visit, the senior Israeli official said.

What they're saying: The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned the Israeli announcement and called it a violation of international law and an undermining of the two-state solution. It also called on the Biden administration to pressure Israel to halt settlement building. 

  • State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter said later Friday the "the Biden administration strongly opposes the expansion of Israeli settlements, which exacerbates tensions and undermines trust between the parties.  Israel’s program of expanding settlements deeply damages the prospects for a two state solution."

The big picture: The announcement comes a day after two Palestinians from the West Bank city of Jenin killed three Israelis and wounded four others with axes and knives in what officials described as a terror attack in the ultra-orthodox city of Elad in central Israel.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the Palestinian foreign ministry and State Department statements. Due to an editing error, it has been corrected to reflect that the Israeli officials told the Biden administration that the settlement announcement would take place after Ramadan (not that it would not take place after Ramadan).

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