Israel has progressed with plans for more than 2,000 new homes in six West Bank settlements, an official said Thursday, in a move likely to further endanger peace talks.
Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the defense ministry unit responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, said a ministry committee had furthered existing plans for 2,269 homes at a meeting last month.
He confirmed claims by anti-settlements Israeli group Peace Now about decisions on two sets of projects, which the watchdog said the committee had examined on February 19.
In the first case, the committee approved for validation 1,015 units in Leshem, Beit El and Almog, meaning the only remaining formality for their final approval is the okay of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
The same committee approved for deposit 1,254 units in Ariel, Shvut Rachel and Shavei Shomron, meaning those projects will now be published in the media for public comment before returning to the committee for further discussion.
Haaretz newspaper, which first reported the story, noted the Ariel plans for 839 units had been "snarled in bureaucracy for the past decade," and the 290 units in Beit El were part of a promise made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he evacuated a neighbourhood in that settlement 18 months ago.
Lior Amihai, a Peace Now official, noted that the decisions have yet to be officially published. He also told AFP that while the February committee was not the final stage of the planning process for the units, the decision to move them forward was extremely meaningful.
"Every stage of advancing (construction) plans in the (West Bank) is a political decision by Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon," he said.
US-led peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are teetering on the brink of collapse ahead of an April 29 deadline for a deal.
Washington is fighting an uphill battle to get the two sides to agree to a framework proposal to extend the negotiations to the year's end.
So far, the Palestinians have flatly refused to consider any extension, partly over Israel's persistent settlement construction which has shown no let-up since talks resumed last July.
The new units would create "facts on the ground that distance us from the two-state solution", Amihai added, and were further proof Israel had "no intention to reach a peace agreement and was doing everything it could to force Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas out of the process."
On Wednesday, a municipal committee gave final approval for plans to build 186 new homes in East Jerusalem.