RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel has given final approval to building 272 more apartments in two isolated West Bank settlements, officials confirmed Monday, just as Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up his latest mediating mission to the region.
Kerry returned to Washington on Monday, after several days of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in hopes of forging the outlines of a peace deal. Kerry reported progress, but gaps remain.
Major Guy Inbar, an Israeli defense official, said the initial approval for new building in the settlements of Ofra and Karnei Shomron was given several months ago, suggesting Sunday’s publication of the plans for validation, a last step, was a formality.
However, the Israeli antisettlement group Peace Now said promoting any settlement plans is a show of bad faith, particularly at a time when Kerry is intensifying his efforts.
The government has the option of suspending settlement plans but instead chooses to promote them, Peace Now spokesman Lior Amihai said.
Under the latest plans, 250 apartments were approved for Ofra, in the heart of the West Bank. Of those, 53 have already been built, without permits, and were given retroactive approval, Peace Now said. Another 22 apartments were approved for the Karnei Shomron settlement, the group said.
Israel has refused to suspend settlement building for the duration of the current round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which began in late July under intense US pressure.
More than 550,000 Israelis already live in dozens of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians want, along with the Gaza Strip, for a future state. Israel captured the three territories in the 1967 Mideast war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but continues to control access to it.