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Israel approves over 12,000 West Bank settler units since Jan., sets new record high: Watchdog

This picture taken on October 14, 2020, shows the Israeli settlement of Efrat south of the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. (Photo by AFP)

The anti-settlement monitoring group Peace Now says Israeli authorities have given the green light for the construction of more than 12,000 settler units in the occupied West Bank since the start of the current year, setting a record high despite strong international condemnation of the Tel Aviv regime’s land expropriation and settlement expansion policies.

“These approvals make 2020 the highest year on record in terms of units in settlement plans promoted since Peace Now began recording in 2012,” the watchdog said in a statement released on Thursday.

Peace Now said the so-called Israeli National Planning Committee approved plans for 4,948 more settlers homes during a two-day meeting held on Wednesday and Thursday.

“The count so far is 12,159 units approved in 2020,” it added, noting that the committee might hold another round of approvals before the end of the year.

“These recent approvals put to rest any speculation about a de facto settlement freeze,” the watchdog pointed out.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said the latest approvals were of "great concern" to all those who remain committed to settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Settlement construction is illegal under international law and is one of the major obstacles to peace,” he stated, calling on Israel to immediately cease all settlement-related activities.

The latest approvals come less than a month after the United Arab Emirates and Israel agreed to a US-brokered deal to normalize relations on August 13. Under the agreement, the Tel Aviv regime has supposedly agreed to "temporarily" suspend applying its own rule to further areas in the West Bank and the strategic Jordan Valley that Netanyahu had pledged to annex.

While Emirati officials have described the normalization deal with the Tel Aviv regime as a successful means to stave off annexation and save the so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli leaders have lined up to reject the bluff of Abu Dhabi's crown prince and de facto ruler of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, that Israel's annexation plans were off the table.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has underlined that annexation is not off the table, but has simply been delayed.

The Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, has also strongly rejected UAE officials’ claim that Israel had stopped settlement annexation following a full normalization of diplomatic relations with the Persian Gulf state.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasem said in a statement on October 1 that the constant expansion of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank has exposed the false claims of the Arab country.

Netanyahu signed agreements with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani during an official ceremony hosted by US President Donald Trump at the White House on September 15.

Palestinians, who seek an independent state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, view the deals as betrayal of their cause.

More than 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.

Since Trump took office in December 2016, Israel has stepped up its settlement construction activities in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which pronounced settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds “a flagrant violation under international law.”

All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law as they are built on occupied land.

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