JERUSALEM Israel on Friday published tenders for 1,400 new homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region to push peace efforts with the Palestinians.
The Palestinians have warned in the past that any further expansion of Israeli settlements on land they seek for a state could derail U.S.-brokered peace talks that resumed in July after a three-year break and are set to last until April.
Friday's announcement had been expected, but was delayed until after Kerry ended his visit.
It also followed Israel's release of 26 Palestinian prisoners last month, who were freed as part of deal brokered by Washington to secure the resumption of peace negotiations.
Israel's Housing Ministry issued a list of settlements in the West Bank where it planned to construct 801 housing units and another 600 in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
The ministry also re-issued tenders for a further 582 units in East Jerusalem that had previously failed to attract bids from contractors.
Anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now said that Friday's announcement meant that since peace talks resumed last year, Israel had announced plans for some 5,349 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
"These latest tenders could cause negotiations to break down and destroy Kerry's efforts," the general secretary of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, said in a statement.
Palestinians see settlements as an obstacle to achieving a viable state in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, and the Gaza Strip from which it pulled out in 2005.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose coalition government includes pro-settler parties, has defended the recent expansion, saying the tenders were for homes in blocs that would remain Israeli in any future peace accord.
Most countries consider Israel's settlements there illegal.
The Palestinians won an upgrade to their U.N. status in 2012 from "entity" to "non-member state" in a vote perceived as a de facto recognition of statehood and have threatened to join the International Criminal Court to confront Israel there.
However, the Palestinians agreed last year to suspend any actions at the United Nations in exchange for the release of scores of Palestinians and a resumption of talks.
A previous round of negotiations broke down in 2010 in a dispute over settlement construction and since their revival this year, peace talks have shown little sign of progress.
Well over 500,000 Jewish settlers live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
(Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Crispian Balmer)