Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 28 October 2020

Israel plans thousands of new settler homes before Pompeo visit

US secretary of state plans to visit Israel for one day next week and meet country's main political rivals

The Israeli settlement of Efrat near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. Menahem Kahana / AFP
The Israeli settlement of Efrat near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. Menahem Kahana / AFP

Israel on Wednesday announced a plan for thousands of new Jewish settlement homes in the occupied West Bank as Washington voiced readiness to back Israeli annexations there.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to visit Israel next week, a source told Reuters, in a sign that he is weighing in on an issue that has been a centrepiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bid to form a coalition.

Mr Netanyahu wants to join political rival Benny Gantz and start cabinet discussions on July 1 about declaring Israeli sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.

The unity government deal has been contested in Israel's top court.

Building for the settlement of Efrat was approved on land that could accommodate about 7,000 housing units, Defence Minister Naftali Bennett's office said on Wednesday.

"The building momentum in the country must not be stopped, even for a second," tweeted Mr Bennett, a religious-nationalist in Mr Netanyahu's caretaker government.

The settlements are deemed illegal by most world powers and condemned by the Palestinians, who want all of the West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war, for a future state.

The US has offered to recognise Israeli sovereignty in the occupied West Bank as part of a proposal President Donald Trump unveiled in February.

Mr Pompeo planned to next week meet Mr Netanyahu, a conservative, and the centrist Mr Gantz, a source said.

Meanwhile, Israel's Parliament began voting on laws approving the coalition deal between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz, before a deadline to avoid another election.

The alliance formed last month followed three inconclusive elections in less than a year.

Under the three-year deal, Mr Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for 18 months, with Mr Gantz as his alternate, a new position in Israeli government.

They will swap roles midway through the deal, with Cabinet positions split between Mr Netanyahu's Likud party and Mr Gantz's Blue and White alliance, and their allies.

The deal could offer Israel rare political stability as it seeks to repair the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus, which has infected more than 16,000 people in the country.

But the pact's opponents have sought to sink it in the Supreme Court and in Parliament.

Updated: May 7, 2020 03:41 AM

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