Israel Pushes Settlement Construction as Trump Leaves Office

JERUSALEM (AP) -- An Israeli watchdog group said Tuesday that the government approved nearly 2,600 new housing units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements a day before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Israeli authorities made a major last-minute push this week to advance settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, which the Palestinians seek as part of a future independent state, in the twilight hours of the Trump administration.

The anti-settlement monitoring group Peace Now said the majority of the new government tenders — published on Tuesday, President Donald Trump's last full day in office — are deep inside the West Bank. Earlier this week, the Israeli government advanced plans for nearly 800 homes in West Bank settlements.

Israel accelerated settlement construction under Trump, whose administration did not criticize settlement announcements and in 2018 said it did not consider settlements illegal under international law.

According to Peace Now, Israel approved or advanced construction of over 12,000 settlement homes in 2020, the highest number in a single year since it started recording in 2012.

Biden is expected to reverse course and adopt the traditional American stance of opposing settlement constructions, setting the stage for tension with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Our out-of-touch government leadership continues to press on with its mad scramble to promote as much settlement activity as possible until the last minutes before the change of the administration in Washington,” said Peace Now.

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. In the decades since, it has built dozens of settlements in the West Bank that most countries consider illegal under international law. The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank as part of a future independent state. They say Israel's growing settler population, approaching some 500,000 people, is an impediment to peace.