Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved the "immediate" construction of 300 settler homes in the occupied West Bank as his government comes under pressure from right-wing Jewish groups.

A senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official denounced the plans to build new homes as “war crimes” and accused Israel of sabotaging peace efforts.

West Bank settlements are major impediments to peace negotiations with the Palestinians, who see the land as part of a future independent state, and Western nations have called on Israel to halt such projects.

The decision comes amid already strained relations between Israel and the United States, particularly over the recent nuclear deal with Iran. But Netanyahu is also under pressure to hold on to his one-seat majority in parliament.

“After consultations in the prime minister’s office, the immediate construction of 300 homes in Beit El has been authorised,” Netanyahu’s office said, adding that planning for another 504 homes in annexed east Jerusalem had also been approved.

According to the statement, the 300 units had been promised three years ago following the demolition of other homes in the Beit El settlement.

The approval came after the Israeli High Court upheld earlier  a demolition order for two structures being built illegally in Beit El. The planned demolition had drawn protests from settler groups, who clashed with police at the site.

Netanyahu had said he opposed the demolition.

Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law, though not by the Israeli government.

“These settlement measures and war crimes are part of a plan by Israeli leaders to impose a ‘Greater Israel’ on historic Palestine and destroy the two-state solution and the chance for peace,” senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement.


By Michael Blum