Israel Advances Peak Number of West Bank Settlement Plans in 2023: Watchdog

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist government has promoted a record number of housing units in settlements in the occupied West Bank in its first six months, Israeli anti-settlement watchdog ‘Peace Now’ said on Thursday.

Most countries deem Jewish settlements built on land Israel occupied in a 1967 Middle East war as illegal, and their continued expansion has for decades been among the most contentious issues between Israel, the Palestinians and the international community.

Since January, Israel has advanced 12,855 settler housing units across the West Bank, said Peace Now — the highest number the group has recorded since it started tracking such activity in 2012.

“In the past six months, the only sector that Israel has vigorously promoted is the settlement enterprise,” it said in a statement.

Palestinian leaders have sought to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. They say settlements cut Palestinian communities from each other and undermine hopes of a viable state.

The United States, Israel’s key ally and a broker of statehood negotiations that have stalled since 2014, has repeatedly expressed its objection to Israel’s ongoing settlement expansion.

According to the United Nations, some 700,000 settlers live in 279 settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, up from 520,000 in 2012. More than 3 million Palestinians who live in the same area are subjected to Israeli military rule that some rights groups say amounts to apartheid.

Israel cites biblical and historical ties to the area and denies it maintains an apartheid policy against Palestinians.

Netanyahu, whose coalition includes far-right ministers who oppose Palestinian statehood, has recently said Israeli settlements were not an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. — Reuters

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Photo: Ozzy Jackson, an 18-year-old settler carries buckets at Kedar Sheep Farm near the Jewish settlement of Kedar in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, June 21, 2023.— Reuters

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