JERUSALEM: Israel has given rare approval to Palestinian homes in the part of the occupied West Bank it fully controls while also backing a large settlement expansion before a visit by the White House’s Jared Kushner.
An Israeli official confirmed the approval by the country’s security cabinet the previous day with US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser expected to visit this week.
The approval is for 700 Palestinian homes and 6,000 for Israeli settlers.
It was not immediately clear if all of the homes will be new construction or if some already exist and are receiving retroactive approval.
The plan for Palestinians, though relatively small and far outweighed by the number of settlement homes, could allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to argue he is making efforts in favour of Kushner’s long-awaited peace plan.
Details on Kushner’s visit as part of a Middle East tour were not yet made available.
He has said his plan will not mention a two-state solution because “it means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians.” US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who has been a backer of Israeli settlements, reiterated that stance in an interview with CNN late on Tuesday.
Friedman said the United States was in favour of Palestinian “autonomy,” but he signalled Washington was not ready for now to support full statehood — similar to Netanyahu’s position.
“The issue we have is agreeing in advance to a state because the word state conjures up with it so many potential issues that we think it does a disservice for us to use that phrase,” he said.
“We believe in Palestinian autonomy. We believe in Palestinian civilian self-governance. We believe that that autonomy should be extended up until the point where it interferes with Israeli security, and it’s a very complicated needle to thread.” He argued that the Palestinian Authority government may currently be too weak to prevent militant groups from overrunning it, resulting in a “failed state” that threatens Israel and neighbouring Jordan.
The White House unveiled economic aspects of its peace plan at a conference in Bahrain in June, but it was boycotted by the Palestinians.
The Palestinians froze contacts with Trump’s White House after his 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and have already dismissed the peace plan as blatantly biased in favour of Israel.
In addition to the Jerusalem decision, Trump’s administration has taken a series of moves against the Palestinians, including cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and shutting their de facto embassy in Washington.
Tuesday’s housing approvals are for the part of the West Bank known as Area C, which is under Israeli security and civilian control and where its settlements are located.
Area C accounts for more than 60 percent of the West Bank, the Palestinian territory that would form part of a future Palestinian state under the so-called two-state solution.
Israel rarely grants approvals for Palestinian construction in that area and frequently carries out demolitions of Palestinian buildings it considers illegally built.