JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s defense minister said on Thursday he plans to seek approval next week for the construction of some 2,500 new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, prompting Palestinian condemnation.
Avigdor Lieberman, writing on Twitter, said a regional planning board would be asked to designate 1,400 of the housing units for immediate construction.
“We will promote building in all of Judea and Samaria, from the north to south, in small communities and in large ones,” Lieberman said, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.
He issued the announcement two days after the Palestinians asked prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to launch a full investigation into accusations of Israeli human rights abuses on Palestinian territory.
“Lieberman’s decision is an Israeli message to the world, the ICC, the United Nations and human rights organizations that Israel is foiling all international efforts exerted to rescue the peace process,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Settlements are one of the most heated issues in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, frozen since 2014.
Palestinians want the West Bank for a future state, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Most countries consider settlements that Israel has built in territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war to be illegal.
Israel disputes that its settlements are illegal and says their future should be determined in peace talks with the Palestinians.
The Trump administration has been working on a new peace proposal. David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said on Israeli Channel 10 News on Wednesday that the plan has not been finalised and he believed it would be presented “within months”.
Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are also home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians. Palestinians have long argued that Israeli settlements could deny them a viable and contiguous state.
Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, editing by Larry King, William Maclean