JERUSALEM – Israel has approved construction of 50 new housing units in a West Bank settlement to absorb settlers who are to be evicted from a nearby unauthorized outpost, according to a court document obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.
Israel's settlement construction has been an irritant in its relations with the Obama administration, which wants building to stop completely as part of efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.
Israel sent its defense minister, Ehud Barak, to Washington Monday to try to ease the growing tension with the U.S. and attempt to work out a compromise. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated Monday that negotiations wouldn't resume while settlement expansion continues.
According to a Defense Ministry document submitted to the Supreme Court, the government has approved construction of 50 new apartments in the settlement of Adam to house squatters living in the nearby Migron outpost.
The construction is to be part of a far more sweeping plan — not yet approved — to build 1,450 new apartments in Adam, north of Jerusalem.
Migron is one of more than 100 settler encampments built without government authorization, in this case on privately owned Palestinian land. Although these outposts were not formally authorized, the government has linked them to electricity and water grids and provided them with roads and security.
The government has done little to fulfill a promise to knock down about two dozen of the outposts, which it is required to do under a six-year-old U.S.-backed peace plan known as the "road map."
Settlers erected outposts beginning in the early 1990s to expand the Jewish presence in the West Bank, territory the Palestinians want for part of their future state.
The government was responding to a Supreme Court appeal submitted by Palestinians who own the land on which Migron sits.
Also Monday, a poll released by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center showed a sharp drop in the popularity of the Gaza Strip's militant Hamas rulers.
Respondents said they did not think Hamas was serious about achieving progress in Palestinian reconciliation talks and blamed it for the failure of reconstruction aid to reach war-battered Gaza, said Amjad Samahan, a spokesman for the Palestinian polling center.
The poll showed public support for Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza falling to 18.8 percent from 27.7 percent in the previous survey in January. Abbas's rival Fatah faction earned a 34.9 percent approval rating, up from up from 26 percent in January.
The reconciliation talks are meant to end the rift between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah, which rules the West Bank. Reconciliation is seen as key to allowing international aid to flow into Gaza to help it rebuild after a devastating, three-week Israeli offensive earlier this year.
A total of 1,199 people were polled for the survey, which had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
Meanwhile, Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of Abbas' government, is traveling to Washington on Tuesday for his first meetings with Obama administration officials, an aide said. While there, he will ask the U.S. to speed up promised donations of $900 million to Abbas' Palestinian Authority, which has a monthly deficit of $25 million to $30 million, the aide added.
The aide spoke on customary condition of anonymity.