JERUSALEM, (AP) – There is no sign of a slowdown in the construction of homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank despite Israel’s announcement that it has stopped approving new building, the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said in a report issued Sunday.
Under U.S. pressure to freeze settlements, Israel indicated last week it had stopped green-lighting new construction projects, part of an attempt to bridge the gap between the two allies. The efforts to achieve an elusive agreement on settlements will continue this week at a London meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell.
But while Peace Now confirms the freeze on approval for new projects, the group’s report says settlement construction is continuing and that settlers can easily build thousands of housing units based on old plans that have already been approved.
There is existing permission for the construction of up to 40,000 housing units, the report said. Construction has begun on around 600 new housing units in 2009, it said.
“There is no settlement freeze,” Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer said.
The number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, home to some 2.5 million Palestinians, has more than doubled since the mid-1990s and now stands at around 300,000.
President Barack Obama’s administration has led a new push to get Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish a future state.
Israel has rebuffed calls for a full halt, saying some construction must continue to allow for the growth of the settler population.
The settlement issue will be raised this week during Netanyahu’s trip to Europe. In addition to his meeting with Mitchell, the Israeli leader is scheduled to hold talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.