REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israel's Housing Ministry announced Sunday that it would construct more than 1,000 housing units in the West Bank and Jerusalem area on land it seized during the 1967 Mideast war.
The expansion includes 500 units in Har Homa, 348 in Beitar Ilit and 180 in Givat Zeev.
“Some countries around the world may not be happy about this but they shouldn’t be surprised,” Housing Minister Ariel Atia told the Israeli news site Ynet. He said the move would lower home prices and increase supply, assisting young Israeli couples looking for affordable housing.
According to Atia, the expansion was approved in response to the Palestinian Authority's successful bid last month to join UNESCO, the United Nations organization. Israel opposed the effort, saying it would discourage Palestinians from returning to the negotiating table.
The U.N. and many countries consider such settlement construction illegal and have urged Israel to refrain from building on land that Palestinians hope to one day make part of their state.
The development of Har Homa is seen as particularly sensitive because its expansion threatens to cut off direct access between Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
The number of new settlement units approved in 2011 is expected to be about three times the number approved in recent years, according to Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, an Israeli group that tracks settlements.
“This government is doing it because there is no pressure to stop them," Ofran said. “After [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu got standing ovations in Congress [during a U.S. visit in May] he feels he can do whatever he wants.”
-- Edmund Sanders
Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday. Credit: Abir Sultan / Associated Press