Middle East

Israeli figures show spike in new settler homes

A builder works on a block of flats at a Jewish settlement, Har Homa, near Bethlehem (7 May 2013)
Image caption Settlement construction is taking place at numerous sites in the West Bank and East Jerusalem

Palestinians have criticised Israel after official statistics showed a rise in new house building in West Bank settlements.

A report by Israeli settlement watchdog, Peace Now, says they have reached a seven-year high.

Building began in 865 settler homes in the first quarter of this year compared to 313 in the same period of 2012.

The data has been published as US Secretary of State John Kerry tries to revive Israel-Palestinian peace talks.

"Once again the Israeli government has ratified that they have a plan for settlement and colonisation and not a plan for peace," said Xavier Abu Eid, adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation's negotiating team. "They are destroying any prospect for a two-state solution."

Figures released last month by the Central Bureau of Statistics detail construction across Israel. The construction of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank represented the highest year-on-year increase.

According to Peace Now, many new units were located in the settlements of Modin Illit and Beitar Illit.

Palestinians insist they will only resume direct talks if Israel stops construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land that they claim, along with the Gaza Strip, for a future state.

Israel, which captured those areas in the 1967 Middle East war, says there should be no "preconditions" for talks and that no settlement freeze will be publicly ordered.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Kerry's challenge

This week Mr Kerry is expected to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories for the fifth time since taking office in February.

In another challenge to his peace efforts, on Sunday a senior Israeli official said that the ruling Likud party would not accept a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 lines separating Israel and the West Bank.

These are favoured by the Palestinians and much of the international community as the parameters for a settlement.

Speaking to Israel's Channel 2, the deputy defence minister Danny Danon said there was "certainly no majority" in his party for such a move and suggested it would be "dangerous for Israel".

Staff from the office of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that did not reflect official policy.

Mr Netanyahu also spoke to his cabinet, saying that "the government must function as one unit".

On Israeli radio, the chief negotiator with the Palestinians, Tzipi Livni, said she was working with the US to restart talks, despite some opposition from within the coalition government.

"The prime minister is the one who will have to decide whether he surrenders to radical elements or will promote his policy that he declared," she said.

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