Jerusalem: The construction of more than 13,000 new homes for Israeli settlers in the West Bank has been approved and will proceed when a partial moratorium expires this month, a watchdog group said on Monday.
The statement came after reports that Israel was planning to resume some construction in the West Bank when the moratorium expires on September 26, a move the Palestinians say would torpedo newly re-launched US-backed peace talks.
The anti-settlement Peace Now group said ground had already been broken on 2,066 units and that another 11,000 had received final government approval.
"This means that if the government decides on a de facto 'tacit freeze', and commits to not approve any new construction but without renewing the freeze order, the settlers can still build 13,000 housing units," Peace Now said.
It added that another 25,000 units were in the pipeline but required further government approval.
An Israeli government official confirmed on condition of anonymity that construction on around 2,000 homes could proceed without any further approval.
US President Barack Obama said last week he had called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend the moratorium.
Israeli officials speaking privately have said the government will avoid making any formal announcement either way when the moratorium expires on September 26 while quietly preventing any major new construction.
And on Sunday, Netanyahu told his right-wing Likud party, which opposes any extension, that "there is all or nothing but there are also halfway options”, according to Israel's Ynet news service.
The Palestinians view the presence of some 500,000 Israelis in more than 120 settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem as a major obstacle to the establishment of a viable state.
They had repeatedly called for a complete settlement freeze ahead of any direct peace talks but reluctantly backed down on the demand in August after months of intense pressure from Washington.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has threatened to walk out of the current talks if construction in the settlements resumes, while Obama has asked him to show more flexibility.
First Published: Monday, September 13, 2010, 13:39