Israel issues tenders for 2,500 new settler homes: watchdog

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Jerusalem (AFP)

Israel has issued tenders for 2,500 new settler homes on the eve of Joe Biden's swearing-in as US president, watchdog Peace Now said Wednesday.

Last Sunday, Israel approved 780 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank ahead of a poll where Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu is expected to face a fierce challenge from right-wing and pro-settler candidate Gideon Saar.

Peace Now said the government had now published tenders for a further 2,112 units in the West Bank and 460 in East Jerusalem, the eastern part of the city annexed by Israel but which the Palestinians hope to make the capital of a future state.

It accused the government of a "mad scramble to promote as much settlement activity as possible until the last minutes before the change of the administration in Washington."

"By doing so, Netanyahu is signaling to the incoming president that he has no intention of giving the new chapter in US-Israel relations even one day of grace, nor serious thought to how to plausibly resolve our conflict with the Palestinians," it said in a statement.

All Jewish settlements in the West Bank are regarded as illegal by much of the international community.

But Trump's administration, breaking with decades of US policy, declared in 2019 that Washington no longer considered settlements as being in breach of international law.

Biden has indicated that his administration will restore Washington's pre-Trump policy of opposing settlement expansion.

Beyond the change in Washington, experts say Netanyahu also has domestic political reasons for pushing settlement expansion.

Electioneering is intensifying ahead of Israel's March 23 poll, in which Netanyahu is expected to face a fierce right-wing challenge from Saar, a defector from the premier's Likud party.

Saar, a prominent pro-settler voice, split with Likud late last year to challenge Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving premier.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu is once again putting his personal political interests over those of the country," Peace Now said.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War.

Following years of settlement expansion, there are currently some 450,000 Jews living in the West Bank amid an estimated 2.8 million Palestinians.

Governments worldwide largely see settlements as an obstacle to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.