Israel has begun building nearly 20,000 settler homes in the West Bank during the past decade of Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership, a settlement watchdog reported Tuesday.
Peace Now’s annual settlement report highlighted how the issue complicates the chances of resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
It said that construction of 19,346 settler homes had started between 2009 — the year that Netanyahu became prime minister for a second time — and the end of 2018.
Thirty-seven percent — or 767 housing units’ worth — of the 2,100 construction starts in 2018 were in areas that are east of the planned route of the West Bank security barrier, and outside of the so-called settlement blocs that most Israelis believed will be retained in any peace agreement with the Palestinians.
“The Israeli government is digging the country a pit to fall in,” said a Peace Now statement accompanying the report.
“Even if the government does not believe that peace can be achieved in the near future, there is no logic to expanding the settlements and making the solution impossible.”
The report was published as Netanyahu was on track to begin a fifth term after April’s general election and the White House prepared to unveil a peace proposal it has been working on for months.
Details of the US plan have been kept under wraps but given US President Donald Trump’s close alliance with Netanyahu it is unlikely to call for widespread dismantlement of settlements. In fact, Channel 12 reported on Sunday that Washington’s proposal will provide for all settlements to remain under Israeli rule in any permanent peace accord.
Settlements are viewed as illegal by most of the international community but have been built in the West Bank by every Israeli government since the 1967 Six Day war.
To rally right-wing voters, Netanyahu said during his election campaign that he would start annexing the West Bank settlements if he was returned to power. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN that the prime minister’s pre-election pledge would not hurt the prospects of the Trump peace plan to succeed.
Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran told AFP that a two-state solution could demand the relocation of about 150,000 settlers, but such a number would be a political impossibility for the right-wing Netanyahu.
Based on aerial photos, Peace Now’s survey said that 2,100 settler homes were started in 2018. Its report for the previous year counted 2,783; the small drop is believed to have more to do with issues of bureaucracy than a political shift, as approvals for constructions rose from 2017 to 2018.
The reports do not include East Jerusalem.