There was a 34 per cent increase in illegal Israeli settlement construction during 2016, with Israeli settlers breaking ground on 1,814 new housing units, compared to 1,350 new construction starts in 2015, settlement watchdog Peace Now revealed in a report on Sunday.
Construction was largely focused in isolated settlements and in areas that are highly problematic in terms of a two-state solution
the NGO said, highlighting that nearly 70 per cent of the new housing – 1,263 units – were in areas that lie beyond the proposed 1967 "Green Line" border in the occupied West Bank.
While all settlement construction is considered illegal under international law, at least 10 per cent of the construction – 183 housing units – took place in sites considered illegal under Israeli law, the group said, referring to illegal settlement outposts.
"While in recent years, most of the construction in outposts was done by individuals who initiated the construction of their own houses, in 2016 we saw more organised construction projects in outposts, with massive infrastructure works which requires funding and investment," Peace Now said.
Such investment must require the active, or at least passive, involvement of the authorities, and the settlement municipal councils in particular.
Peace Now noted that of all illegal settlements, the Efrat settlement in the southern occupied West Bank Bethlehem district saw the greatest amount of construction starts in 2016, totalling 221 new housing units.
"The settlement of Efrat is considered highly problematic in regards to a two-state solution since it is adjacent to Bethlehem from the south, preventing the city from any future possibilities of development," Peace Now said, adding that Efrat is located east of Route 60, the only highway that connects the southern West Bank with the northern part of the territory.
"The annexation of Efrat to Israel would thus bloc this highway and will cut the southern parts of the West Bank from its northern parts."