The coalition government set a record for settlement construction in the first half of 2023, according to left-wing activist group Peace Now.
Peace Now has been recording the advancement of settlement plans by the Israeli government since 2012.
In data released last month, Peace Now says the coalition government promoted 12,855 housing units in the territories of Judea and Samaria, internationally known as the West Bank, in the first half of the year. In that same time, the government approved nine outposts.
The previous record of construction plans was in 2020, also under a Netanyahu-led coalition. There were 12,159 approvals that year. Only 3,645 plans were approved during 2021, under the Bennet-Lapid government.
In February, an agreement between Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant gave Smotrich authority over civilian areas in Area C of Judea and Samaria.
At the time, The Jerusalem Post reported that Smotrich would have “the ability to authorize outposts as neighborhoods of new settlements.”
Legal officials had warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that giving Smotrich the authority could be interpreted as de-facto annexation and might undermine Israel’s standing in the international community.
In June, the coalition government transferred the planning authorities to Smotrich’s oversight, which Peace Now says “allows for an accelerated development of settlements without taking into account political or security considerations, contrary to Israel’s previous practices and policies regarding construction in the West Bank.”
The outposts approved by the government are now considered legal residential areas by Israeli law, however, many countries consider them to be illegally occupied.
In their publication, Peace Now wrote: “It seems that from every direction, starting from government decisions to the work of the Higher Planning Council, the development and construction in the settlements are the main and central activities of the current government. In the past six months, the only sector that Israel has vigorously promoted is the settlement enterprise.”
The coalition government campaigned on promises to increase settlement activity in Judea and Samaria.
Both the Jewish Power and Religious Zionism parties are composed primarily of settlement supporters.
But the latest statistics could harm Israel’s efforts for an agreement with Saudi Arabia.
During a summit in Aqaba, Jordan in February, Israel reportedly agreed to a six-month settlement freeze. Netanyahu later disputed those claims, saying, “There will not be a freeze on the building and development in settlements, not even for one day.”
At a second summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in March, Israel allegedly affirmed it would not engage in building new settlements for a brief period, nor discuss the approval of new construction in settlements for a period of four months. In addition, it agreed to refrain from discussing the legalization of existing illegal outposts for six months.
Saudi Arabia is reportedly requesting concessions from Israel regarding the Palestinians before agreeing to normalization.
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The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.