Israel moved forward on Wednesday with plans to build some 3,000 homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, projects that have drawn strong criticism from its U.S. ally.
An Israeli defense official said a planning forum of COGAT — Israel's liaison office with the Palestinians —gave preliminary approval for plans to build 1,344 housing units and its final go-ahead for projects to construct 1,800 homes.
Approval of the new construction is bound to raise friction with the United States and Europe, anger the Palestinians and test Israel’s fragile governing coalition, made up of ultra-nationalists, centrists and dovish parties that oppose settlements.
The Labor Party lambasted Defense Minister Benny Gantz for the construction approval, as well as the outlawing of six Palestinian NGOs over their alleged connection to the terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
"Someone who makes diplomatic declarations with international implications in an irresponsible manner, without coordination or preparation, and approves 3,000 new housing units in Judea and Samaria is, how should we say it, no Rabin," the part wrote on Twitter - alluding to Gantz's claims he is continuing the policies of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The United States had already voiced strong opposition to the plans to advance the settlement units in the West Bank, saying such moves would damage prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A senior U.S. State Department official said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had discussed the issue with Gantz on Tuesday. Their phone call was first reported by the Axios news website, which cited Israeli officials as saying the chief U.S. diplomat voiced U.S. opposition to the settlement plan.
Ahead of the planning committee's meeting, Israel on Sunday published tenders for about 1,300 new settlement homes in the West Bank, where some 440,000 settlers live among 3 million Palestinians.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War and cites biblical, historical and political links to the area in maintaining that Jews have a right to live there. Palestinians seek a future state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
"The behavior of the Israeli government under Bennett is no less extreme than what it had been under Netanyahu," Bassam Al-Salhe, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters.
"The U.S. administration has words, and no deeds, to change the policy that had been put in place by Trump," Salhe said.