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Benny Gantz (L), Yair Lapid (C) and Naftali Bennett. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz today announced that a committee will convene next week to authorize new housing units in the occupied West Bank for both Jewish settlers and for Palestinians living in "Area C," which is controlled by Israel.

Why it matters: West Bank settlements policy is among the most polarizing issues in Israel and could destabilize Bennett's ideologically diverse coalition. It's also one of the biggest challenges for Bennett to navigate as he prepares for an expected meeting with President Biden later this month.

Gantz's announcement ends an unofficial moratorium on the approval of new settlements that had lasted ten months. It's also the first time in several years that Israel has approved new Palestinian homes in Area C.

  • Gantz said the committee would authorize 2,200 new housing units in West Bank settlements — 900 of which are already in the final planning stages and ready for construction — while also noting that permits would be issued for 1,000 housing units for Palestinians in "Area C."

Between the lines: Gantz's announcement was expected, but the key question had been whether it would be made before or after Bennett met Biden.

  • Israeli officials tell me the decision was to get the announcement out of the way before the meeting so it wouldn't overshadow it, and because approving the plans after the meeting could have been perceived as disrespect towards Biden.

Behind the scenes: Aides to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had discussed settlements policy in meetings at the White House and State Department last week, notifying their counterparts that the settlements committee would convene soon.

  • Bennett's aides — foreign policy adviser Shimrit Meir and national security adviser Eyal Hulata — said the government would show restraint, base its decisions on needs arising from "natural growth," and not take steps that would make a future peace agreement more difficult, the Israeli officials say.
  • The Biden administration opposes any new settlement building, and the Palestinian Authority strenuously objects to any new construction.
  • What they're saying: "The Biden administration knows we are going to build. We know they don’t like it, and both sides don’t want to reach a confrontation around this issue," an Israel official told me.

In the meetings, Biden administration officials said they expect Israel to avoid provocative steps like demolishing Palestinian homes, evicting Palestinians or establishing new illegal outposts in the West Bank.

  • The U.S. side also raised recent instances of violence by settlers against Palestinians and was told that Bennett would show no tolerance for such violence, the Israeli officials say.
  • The U.S. officials also asked that Israel take steps to help the Palestinian Authority cope with the current economic crisis.
  • The latest: Israel notified the Biden administration ahead of Gantz's announcement, Israeli officials say.

Flashback: Settlement construction was one of the main points of contention between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama. Obama declined to veto a 2016 UN Security Council resolution reiterating that the settlements are illegal.

  • During Donald Trump's presidency, settlement building increased by 150% in comparison to Obama’s second term. Most of the new buildings planned during Trump’s term were in isolated settlements deep into the West Bank.
  • What’s next: Unlike during the Trump administration, there won't be a U.S.-Israeli mechanism to coordinate and approve construction in the settlements.

Go deeper

Oct 21, 2021 - World

Scoop: Israel and France hold secret talks to end NSO spyware crisis

Anyone listening? Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata secretly visited Paris several days ago for talks with his counterparts at the Élysée aimed at ending the crisis around the alleged use of Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli firm NSO to hack the cell phones of President Emmanuel Macron and other top French officials, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The alleged misuse of NSO software has become a major diplomatic headache for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government. The crisis led to a partial freeze on diplomatic, security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and France and the suspension of high-level bilateral visits.

Ohio sues Biden admin over reversal of Trump-era abortion referral ban

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. Photo: Justin Merriman/Getty Images

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration Monday over a Trump-era ban on abortion referrals that President Biden overturned earlier this month.

The big picture: The lawsuit aims to reinstate two measures included in the 2019 legislation that required federally funded family planning clinics to be "financially independent of abortion clinics," and refrain from referring patients for abortions.

Oklahoma Supreme Court temporarily blocks abortion restrictions

A pro-choice activist demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 4, 2021. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday temporarily blocked three abortion restrictions set to take effect on Nov. 1.

Why it matters: The laws would place new limits on medication-induced abortions and require doctors who perform abortions to attain board certification in obstetrics and gynecology.