Israel approves new settler homes in West Bank

 
A Defence Ministry list of the first such building permits since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in March showed the homes would be erected in areas Israel says it intends to keep in a future peace deal with the Palestinians.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel’s decision further undermined any belief that it is a credible partner for peace. Israeli officials announced on Friday that Netanyahu intended to give the go-ahead for the new projects in the occupied West Bank, drawing swift condemnation from the White House. The permits, signed by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, for 455 housing units were widely seen in Israel as an attempt by Netanyahu to mollify pro-settler members of his government and Likud party before agreeing to a freeze of construction starts.

“This is a huge smokescreen,” said Pinhas Wallerstein, a settler leader, suggesting the step was only a token gesture meant to mask a real intention to bend to US pressure to curb settlement expansion.

US President Barack Obama has pushed Netanyahu for a settlement freeze to open the way for a revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks suspended since December.

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