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Bennett (L) and Biden discussed the settlements issue. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty

Israel will approve the construction of 4,400 new homes in the West Bank next week: 3,10o in the Jewish settlements and 1,300 in Palestinian villages.

Why it matters: This will be the first time Israel has approved new settlement building since President Biden assumed office, and it's the first time since 2007 that it approves a significant number of new homes for Palestinians in "Area C" of the West Bank, which is controlled by Israel.

Behind the scenes: The Biden administration has pressed the Israeli government in private to restrain settlement activity. The Israeli decision will likely cause tensions, and it could push the U.S. to air its criticism in public.

The big picture: Most of the international community views the West Bank settlements as illegal, and the Palestinians argue that Israel is claiming more and more land that should be part of their future state.

  • A substantial number of the houses to be approved are in the isolated Israeli settlements deep into the West Bank and outside of the big settlement blocs that are envisioned to remain a part of Israel in any future peace deal.

The backstory: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a settlements supporter, had wanted to get one big step on settlements out of the way before his visit to Washington in August: the approval of 2,000 new housing units in the Israeli settlements and about 1,000 new units in Palestinian villages.

  • Instead, a strike by the workers union of one of the departments in the Ministry of Defense postponed the move.
  • Biden told Bennett in their Aug. 27 meeting at the White House that he expected Israel to show restraint on the settlements issue, and Bennett replied that Israel would build only according to needs arising from “natural growth."
  • The number of housing units has now increased from the previous plan, with 900 additional houses to be approved in the settlements and 350 more in Palestinian villages.

Between the lines: It would have been much easier to approve the new units before Biden explicitly pressed Bennett on this issue, and the meeting to approve the housing units was delayed by eight weeks after the visit. Now it will take place next week.

Go deeper

Nov 29, 2021 - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

New Zealand aims to create smoke-free generation with tobacco ban

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a December news conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand officials announced Thursday legislative plans to outlaw smoking by making it illegal to sell or supply tobacco products to the next generation as part of a lifetime ban.

Why it matters: "People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco," Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement announcing the proposed law, part of the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan.

FDA approves AstraZeneca COVID drug for people with immune problems

Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for an AstraZeneca COVID-19 antibody drug for people with compromised immune systems.

Why it matters: The drug, Evusheld, is the first antibody therapy authorized in the U.S. to prevent coronavirus symptoms before virus exposure.