AFP - Israel's housing ministry has plans for West Bank construction that would nearly double the number of settlers in the occupied territory, the anti-settlement group Peace Now said on Monday.
The report was issued on the same day that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to visit to Israel on her first trip to the region since taking office.
US President Barack Obama has vowed to vigorously pursue peace efforts in the region, and Israeli settlements on occupied land have long been one of the main obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
"The ministry of construction and housing is planning to construct at least 73,000 housing units in the West Bank," said the Peace Now report based on analysis of data on Israeli government websites.
"At least 15,000 housing units have already been approved and plans for an additional 58,000 housing units are yet to be approved," it said.
Out of the units already approved, nearly 9,000 have been built, the report said.
"If all the plans are realised, the number of settlers in the territories will be doubled," the report said, saying the estimate was based upon an average of four people in each housing unit.
"The completion of these projects will make the plan of creating a Palestinian state next to Israel totally unrealistic," Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer told army radio.
Peace Now estimates that there are currently more then 280,000 Israeli settlers living in some 121 settlements in the West Bank. Another estimated 200,000 live in annexed east Jerusalem.
Housing ministry spokesman Eran Sidis insisted "these plans refer only to potential construction" and would yet need to be approved by various government bodies.
"In practice only a very small part of these urbanism projects are implemented," Sidis told AFP.
He claimed Peace Now "mixed together unrelated data," but he did not deny the existence of the project.
Included among the plans are some 17,000 housing units outside existing settlements in the Bethlehem area, the Peace Now report said.
"There are plans for huge construction to double the size of some settlements" including Beitar Illit, Ariel, Maale Adumim and Efrat, it said.
Some 19,000 units are planned to be built to the east of the controversial Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank, and the ministry plans include at least six wildcat outposts -- settlements not authorised by the Israeli government, it said.
"The plans published are only a small part of the overall housing plans for the occupied territories," the group said. "There are other thousands of housing units in plans of the local authorities, private initiators and other public authorities, all of which we are in the process of collating."