Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet has backed the house-building programme in “Area C” – a zone fully controlled by Israel which accounts for around 60 per cent of the West Bank.
The official, who was speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door meeting, said the government advanced the proposal late Tuesday.
Since the signing of the interim 1993 Oslo accords, Israel has had security and administrative control of the area, where most of the Jewish settlements are now concentrated. The settlements are deemed illegal under international law.
The Palestinians want the West Bank for a future state, but the US has hinted that it could back Israel keeping some under any future Israeli-Palestinian accord.
The announcement appeared timed to coincide with a visit by Donald Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner, expected in the region this week to discuss a White House plan for a peace agreement. The White House has not yet officially confirmed the visit.
Mr Kushner is returning to the region to promote the administration’s call for a $50bn (£40bn) economic support package for the Palestinians, which would accompany a peace plan that the Trump administration has yet to release.
Touring new construction in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, south of Jerusalem, the Israeli prime minister said on Wednesday that “not a single settlement or a single settler will ever be uprooted”.
Transport minister Bezalel Smotrich, a religious nationalist in Mr Netanyahu’s government, wrote on Facebook that he backed the construction of Palestinian housing in Area C because “it prevents the establishment of a terrorist Arab state in the heart of the land”.
Mr Netanyahu’s government has approved the construction of tens of thousands of settler homes, but permits for Palestinian construction are extremely rare.
Israel captured and occupied the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 war. Since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel has imposed a land, air and sea blockade of the Strip.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority has control of civilian affairs in Areas A and B, which include the West Bank’s main Palestinian cities and towns.
The Palestinians have cut off all contact with the Trump administration, saying its policies have been unfairly biased towards Israel.
Mr Trump’s Middle East team is spearheaded by people with close ties to Israel’s settler movement.
His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, recently told The New York Times that Israel has the “right” to annex some of the West Bank.
Both critics and supporters of the settlements say the White House’s friendly attitude has encouraged a jump in settlement activity.
Additional reporting by agencies
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