The construction plan was approved by former Defense Minister Ehud Barak prior to the latest elections. Of the 675 housing units, 137 are existing apartments that have now been retroactively approved.
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The plan comes amid settler claims that the government is imposing a "silent freeze" policy in the West Bank whereby construction permits are being denied without an official cabinet decision on the matter.
The Shomron Regional Council, where Itamar is situated, welcomed the move. "Samaria has recorded an impressive 10% annual growth rate and provides thousands of young couples, both secular and religious, high levels of culture and education and vicinity to central Israel," a statement said.
Itamar. Expected to expand after construction (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky, Yedioth Ahronoth)
Conversely, the Peace Now movement criticized the move. "Netanyahu has decided to change the rules and ruin any chance of reviving talks. The government has become addicted to the construction of settlements that will not remain in Israel under any agreement. It will fall to Israel's citizens to pay the diplomatic and financial cost."
Meanwhile, a joint Israeli-Polish statement is causing embarrassment for the prime minister's bureau. A statement drafted by the National Security Council expressed objection to unilateral steps in the context of the Israel-Palestinian peace process.
The international community generally views settlement construction as a unilateral step.
Netanyahu en route to Poland (Photo: Kobi Gideon, GPO)
The statement exposed a lack of coordination with the Foreign Ministry which was left out of the process.
The prime minister's bureau said, "The statements are in accordance with Netanyahu's past comments. Had he seen the wording he would have phrased it a bit differently but as the statement is already out there is little point in dwelling over it."
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report
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