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Group chides Israeli growth

Says Netanyahu undercuts plans for two-state deal

JERUSALEM — A review of Prime Minister Benjamin ­Netanyahu’s settlement policies shows a clear intent to prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state by stepping up construction in strategic areas, an Israeli antisettlement group said Wednesday.

During Netanyahu’s four-year term, 38 percent of nearly 6,900 West Bank construction starts were reported in settlements deep inside the territory, compared to 20 percent under his predecessors, the Peace Now group said.

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The report by the watchdog was released a week before Israel’s parliamentary elections on Jan. 22. Netanyahu appears poised to win another four year term, polls show.

According to the report, the government also issued bids for 5,302 settlement apartments in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and advanced planning for thousands more, the group said. The group’s findings were based on aerial photos, field visits, and official reports.

The latest bids were issued on Tuesday, when the government asked developers to compete to build 84 apartments in Kiryat Arba, a settlement near the West Bank city of Hebron, and 114 in Efrat, a major settlement south of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians want the West Bank, Gaza, and East ­Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, for a future state.

Israel still occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem and while it withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza, it controls most access to the coastal territory, now ruled by Hamas.

Netanyahu has said he is willing to negotiate the borders of a Palestinian state but wants to keep East Jerusalem — which Palestinians want as their capital — and chunks of the West Bank. Netanyahu has rejected a Palestinian demand for a settlement freeze during negotiations; talks have been on hold for four years.

Peace Now concluded that Netanyahu’s policies in his first term ‘‘disclose a clear intention to use settlements to systematically undermine and render impossible a realistic, viable two-state solution to the Israeli- ­Palestinian conflict.’’

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev denied the government is trying to undermine prospects for Palestinian statehood through settlement expansion.

Israel hasn’t clearly defined settlement blocs, but they are believed to include larger settlements near Israel as well the Ariel enclave of 17,000 settlers in the heart of the West Bank. In all, about half a million Israelis live in dozens of settlements on disputed land, including 200,000 in East Jerusalem.

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