Palestinian PM Calls on U.S. to Push Back on Israeli Plan for West Bank Housing Units

Mohammad Shtayyeh, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, has asked the U.S. to push back on Israel's settlements, straining the peace between them.

Israel announced construction for 1,355 housing units in the West Bank and is expected to authorize around 3,000 more this week, in opposition to the Palestinians who view the settlements as the main obstacle to peace between them and the Israelites.

The Palestinians say the settlement expansions that have taken place for decades have made it nearly impossible for the country to establish itself alongside Israel and resolve the decades-old conflict.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid addressed the issues and said Israel's expansions are not to build new settlements but allow room for "natural growth" in their existing ones.

"In the next four years, we will act and we will argue and pass budgets and lower the cost of living and continue to lead the world in fighting coronavirus. And we will also fight from time to time over settlements and the Palestinians and security and the economy," Lapid said.

The Israeli government also plans to build 1,600 housing units for Palestinians in the West Bank, but Palestinians say that will not cover their needs, as more than 2.5 million Palestinians live in the territory.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Israel Construction in West Bank
Mohammad Shtayyeh, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, has asked the U.S. to push back on Israel’s settlements, straining the peace between them. Palestinians built new houses in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Bruchin near the Palestinian town of Nablus, October 25. Ariel Schalit/Associated Press

The announcement of tenders is one of the final steps before construction can commence. It green-lights bidding on contracts for hundreds of housing units in Ariel, Beit El and other Jewish settlements deep inside the West Bank. Israel captured the territory in the 1967 war, and the Palestinians want it to form the main part of their future state.

Israeli Housing and Construction Minister Zeev Elkin, of the right-wing New Hope party, on Sunday welcomed the marketing of the tenders.

But Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the dovish Meretz party, said Monday in an interview with public radio broadcaster Kan that his faction "will explicitly not agree to actions that will harm the chances of reaching a solution" with the Palestinians.

"I understand that this government, in the existing situation, won't sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians right now, but still, we must avoid actions that worsen the situation," Horowitz said. He remained confident, however, that the coalition would remain united and pass a national budget before a November 14 deadline despite its differences.

The European Union called on Israel to halt settlement construction and not to proceed with the announced tenders.

"Settlements are illegal under international law and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between the parties," it said in a statement Monday.

Israel considers the West Bank to be the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people. Its current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is a strong supporter of the settlements and is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. Israel and the Palestinians have not held substantive peace negotiations in more than a decade.

The Israeli anti-settlement monitoring group Peace Now issued a statement saying the new government's "commitment to the political status quo was revealed to be lip service on the way to a continuation of Netanyahu's annexation policy," referring to the previous Israeli administration under Benjamin Netanyahu, now opposition leader.

The announcement of new housing units and last week's outlawing of Palestinian rights groups for alleged terrorism links have rattled Israel's governing coalition. It is made up of eight parties ranging from ultranationalists who promote settlement construction to more dovish groups that want renewed peace talks with the Palestinians.

Mossi Raz, a lawmaker from Meretz, condemned the settlement announcement, tweeting that "these steps endanger the future of the state of Israel and the future political horizon, and undermine the basis on which this change government was founded."