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FILE PHOTO: A Jewish man covered in a prayer shawl, prays in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank December 18, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Ori Lewis
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli panel approved plans on Tuesday for the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades, Israeli media reports said, drawing Palestinian condemnation and defying repeated international appeals to avoid such measures.
If confirmed, the plans, which media said also envisage the construction of some 1,800 other settler homes in the West Bank, are likely to deliver a further serious blow to efforts to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
A spokeswoman for the military-run Civil Administration in the West Bank of which the panel is a part declined to comment on the reports.
Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group that monitors settlement activity in the West Bank, could not immediately confirm the reports but said the panel was due to discuss further building plans for the occupied territory on Wednesday.
The reported move follows an Israeli government decision in March to build the new settlement, known as Amichai. It will house some 300 settlers evicted in February from another settlement called Amona.
Israel's Supreme Court ordered the removal of the Amona settlers after ruling that their homes had been built illegally on privately-owned Palestinian land. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to re-house them at a new site in the West Bank.
According to the media reports, the panel approved plans to build 102 homes at the Amichai site for the Amona settlers. Plans for another 1,800 dwellings in several existing settlements were also ratified, the reports said.
Palestinians, who seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital, reacted angrily to the reports.
"When President (Donald) Trump visited the region, and didn't mention anything about the settlements, the Israeli government thought that it is a green light to continue expanding settlements against all international laws," Wassel Abu Yussef, an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters.
The U.S. president did not speak publicly about the settlements during a May 22-23 visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank, though he urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to "make a deal" for peace that would entail compromise and tough decisions.
At a White House meeting with Netanyahu in February, Trump appeared to catch the Israeli leader off-guard when he urged him to "hold back on settlements for a little bit".
Most countries view settlements that Israel has built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal. Israel disputes that and cites biblical, historical and political links to the West Bank, as well as security interests.
About 400,000 settlers and 2.8 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.
(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Gareth Jones)