Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to authorise 3,500 new illegal settler homes in a particularly contentious area of the occupied West Bank, just a week before a tight General Election.
The settlement project in what is known as the E1 Zone, involves building hundreds of settlement units to link the illegal settlements of Kfar Adumim and Maale Adumim with East Jerusalem in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, reported the Middle East Eye. Building in this area has previously sparked an international outcry, but emboldened by US President Donald Trump's support and his favourable so-called "peace plan", Netanyahu appears to be charging ahead with the move.
The international community has warned repeatedly that Jewish settlement construction in the E1 zone would cut the West Bank in two and compromise the contiguity of a future Palestinian state. Despite this, the Israeli leader told a conference in Jerusalem, "This had been delayed for six and a half years. I have given instructions to immediately publish for deposit the plan to build 3,500 housing units in E1. This announcement has tremendous importance and I think everyone here understands this."
The Peace Now settlement watchdog, on the other hand, said Netanyahu was "selling Israel's national interests and dragging the country toward a bi-national state" in order to win more votes from settlers in Monday's election.
"Palestinians must recognise a unified Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, disarm Gaza and disarm Hamas, stop incitement against us, apply a democratic constitution whereby freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of religion are guaranteed," Netanyahu added.
Last week, he announced a plan to add 2,200 settlements units in the nearby Har Homa settlement in occupied East Jerusalem.
As Netanyahu concluded his speech by saying that he would only be able to continue expanding Israel's presence beyond the Green (1949 Armistice) Line if those in the audience voted for him next week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticised the move as being designed to win support ahead of the General Election in Israel on 2 March.