Israel has "allocated about 1,200 dunams (300 acres) for the planning of a new neighbourhood that would expand the settlement of Efrat toward Bethlehem", in the occupied West Bank.
According to a report in Haaretz, the planned expansion of Efrat would expand the built-up area of the region's settlements "up to the southern outskirts of the Palestinian city, in a manner that would surround Bethlehem with settlements".
At the end of last month, the so-called Civil Administration (the occupation authorities) allocated the area to the Housing Ministry, "a step that will enable the beginning of the active planning of the neighbourhood called Givat Eitam". The area is on the eastern side of the Separation Wall.
The planned expansion has previously been thwarted "due to international pressure", reported Haaretz. Last September, the Efrat local council "built a small outpost between two buildings on the hill", an illegal outpost that "served as a kind of statement of the council's intentions".
The head of the Settlement Watch team in Peace Now, Shabtay Bendet, said: "The government is crossing a red line in advancing a new settlement in E2, which is likely to be a lethal blow to the chance of peace and a two-state solution."
"The Netanyahu government is carrying out a dangerous and underhanded step in order to avoid public criticism in Israel and worldwide – it is no coincidence that this was done immediately after the announcement of the election, when public attention in Israel is directed at political developments and during the Christmas holiday, when the entire Christian world is on vacation."