JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli defense ministry body advanced plans for 31 West Bank settlement construction projects Wednesday, the first such move under the country’s new government.
The plans approved by the Civil Administration include a shopping center, a special needs school and a number of infrastructure projects and zoning changes in existing West Bank settlements, Israeli media reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government was sworn in earlier this month, unseating longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu after four deadlocked elections. His governing coalition is comprised of eight parties representing a wide spectrum of political positions, from Jewish ultranationalists to liberal factions and a small Islamist party.
Most of the international community considers Israeli settlement construction illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. Since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Mideast war, it has constructed dozens of settlements in the West Bank, where more than 400,000 Israelis live alongside nearly 3 million Palestinians.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state. Peace talks between the two parties have been stalled for years.
The U.S. has urged Israel and the Palestinians to refrain from actions that could hinder peace efforts, including settlement activity. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will be flying to Rome on Sunday to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List of Arab parties in Israel’s parliament, said following the approval of settlement construction that “the left has surrendered to the right and has put aside the diplomatic issue, but the right continues to harm the chances of peace and deepen the occupation, oppression and dispossession of millions of Palestinians."
Bennett has said that all parties will have to put ideological differences aside for the new government to function. A minister from the dovish Meretz party said the new government has agreed “at least at this stage, not to deal with” the Palestinian issue.