Middle East

Israel announces plan to build 3,000 more homes in West Bank settlements

Jan. 25: Palestinian men work at a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel.

Jan. 25: Palestinian men work at a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel.  (AP)

Israel announced plans Tuesday to build 3,000 more settlement homes in the West Bank settlements, marking the third time the country announced similar plans since President Trump was sworn in.

While Trump has signaled that he will be far more tolerant of Israeli settlement construction than his predecessors, he also has expressed a desire to broker a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, and siding closely with Israel on such a contentious matter could hurt U.S. credibility.

The United Nations released a statement expressing concern over Israel's new West Bank settlement construction Wednesday.

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"We once again warn against any unilateral actions that can be an obstacle to a negotiated two-state solution and call on both parties to return to meaningful negotiations on the basis of relevant Security Council resolutions and in accordance with international law, in order to address all final status issues,"  a spokesman for the United Nations' Secretary General said in a statement. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly clashed with President Obama over settlement construction.

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Tensions boiled over last month when the Obama White House allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution condemning settlements on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians as illegal.

Trump harshly criticized Obama for going against Israel and promised a new approach after taking office, raising hopes inside Israel's nationalist government for a new era in relations.

Trump has already invited Netanyahu to visit the White House next month, and both men, after speaking on the phone Sunday, promised close coordination on a range of sensitive matters, including settlements.

Netanyahu's office would not say whether he had consulted with the White House before Tuesday's announcement, but just a day earlier, the prime minister told a meeting of his Likud Party that there should be no surprises for the new president.

The construction plans were announced by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said in a statement that he and Netanyahu agreed on the approval "in response to housing needs."

He said most of the housing units will be built in settlement "blocs," densely populated areas where most settlers already live and which Israel wants to keep under its control under any future peace deal with the Palestinians. Some 100 homes were slated for two smaller settlements.

The approvals were for early stages of home development, meaning construction is not expected to begin anytime soon.

"This decision destroys the two-state solution," said Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official in the West Bank. "We call on the international community to hold Israel accountable immediately." He said the Israeli government had been encouraged by what it heard from Trump.

The Palestinians want the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for their hoped-for state, a position that has wide international backing.

Trump has signaled a softer approach to the settlements. Earlier this week, he did not react to an Israeli announcement to build over 560 new homes in east Jerusalem.

Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha settlers' council, said recently that he hopes Tuesday's announcement "is just the beginning of a wave of new building." Revivi led the delegation to the inauguration, the first time the movement has received such an invitation.

Fox News' Yonat Friling and The Associated Press contributed to this report