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Netanyahu defends record on settlement expansion from hard-right critics

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu giving a TV interview [IsraelinUSA/Flickr]

The Israeli Prime Minister's Office has defended the government's record on settlement expansion, in response to criticism from settler leaders and hard-right politicians, including ministers.

It was reported earlier this week that Israeli authorities will shortly advance almost 4,000 settlement housing units in the occupied West Bank, but a closer examination of the details has revealed that the number of units that will be approved for immediate construction is closer to 600.

According to Haaretz, the figure includes 300 homes in Beit El, as well as 86 units in Kochav Yaakov for settlers removed from Migron outpost. 146 new homes are slated to be built in Nokdim, where Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman lives, along with 30 in Hebron and nine in Psagot.

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Israeli officials cited by The Jerusalem Post claim that the government is on track to advancing plans for 12,000 settlement homes in 2017.

To date, the report stated, "plans for 5,000 settler homes have been advanced and tenders have been issued for 3,000 homes".

Map of approved housing units [Haaretz]

Map of approved housing units [Haaretz]

Next week's meeting of the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] will take the total number of settlement homes advanced through various planning stages to close to 12,000.

Israeli officials claimed this is "four times the number of plans that were debated in 2016", including "projects for settlements that have not seen new homes in many years".

The comments come as Netanyahu has received criticism for a perceived slow rate of settlement expansion from both his own coalition members and West Bank settler leaders. Critics include Minister Yisrael Katz, Minister Haim Katz, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

Shlomo Ne'eman, head of the settlers' Gush Etzion Regional Council, said: "We cannot accept the fact that every Jewish home here requires special approval from overseas. This is not only national humiliation, it is a violation of Israel's independence on its soil".

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He added: "It is our right and duty to build this land, settle it and be the sovereign in it. We are not denying the achievements of the prime minister, but we are demanding a courageous move that will change the system. We have to be the sovereign in this land".

Jewish Home parliamentarian Bezalel Smotrich, meanwhile has vowed a change in "the practicalities of building" in West Bank settlements, describing this as "a requirement that the Jewish Home party must set as a red line at the opening of the Knesset's winter session".

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