Israel announces new construction in West Bank

Correction: Earlier versions of this article misstated the last name of the town’s mayor. The mayor of Ariel is Ron Nachman, not Ron Nahman. This version has been updated.

Israel on Monday announced approval for construction of 277 homes in a large Jewish settlement deep in the West Bank, the third announcement this month of building on occupied land.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the construction in the settlement town of Ariel, a ministry statement said, adding that 100 of the housing units were for people evacuated from the former Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim. Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

The Defense Ministry gave no explanation for the timing of the latest building announcement, and a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had no further comment.

In two announcements this month, the Interior Ministry publicized plans to build more than 5,000 homes in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, in what Interior Minister Eli Yishai said was a response to a wave of protests in Israel triggered by a shortage of affordable housing.

The planned building on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and sought by Palestinians for a future state has drawn criticism from Washington, reiterated Monday by U.S. officials.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the approval was “deeply troubling.”

“These kinds of actions are counterproductive to the resumption of direct negotiations. We have raised this issue with the Israeli government We will continue to make our position known,” Nuland said.

The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank said in a statement that the latest Israeli building plans showed “Israel’s contempt for a negotiated two-state solution” and were part of an effort to “preempt the outcome of any bilateral negotiation.”

Israeli-Palestinian talks were re-launched in September but broke off in a dispute over continued Israeli settlement building. The Palestinians assert that they cannot negotiate while settlements expand on land they want for a future state. Netanyahu has urged an immediate resumption of negotiations to discuss outstanding issues, including the future of the settlements.

The new building in Ariel, which has about 18,000 inhabitants, was the largest housing development approved in the settlement in several years, according to the town’s mayor, Ron Nachman. Lying southwest of the Palestinian city of Nablus, Ariel juts deep into the West Bank and has been cited by Israeli leaders as one of the large settlements that Israel would seek to retain in a future peace deal with the Palestinians.

With no immediate prospect for the resumption of talks, Palestinian officials say they are moving ahead with plans to seek admission to the United Nations in September as a member state. Israel and the United States have opposed the move, urging the resolution of all issues in dispute through negotiations.

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