Israel plans to build 2,200 new apartments in West Bank settlements and at the same time will approve the construction of 1,000 homes for Palestinians in Palestinian villages and towns in Area C – the area of the West Bank in which Israel retains authority over planning and construction.
Israel has failed to approve Palestinian construction plans for Area C for many years and the decision by the government of right-wing prime minister Naftali Bennett is being described as a goodwill gesture towards the Palestinians, which will make it easier for the left-wing parties in his coalition to accept renewed settlement building.
Senior Israeli officials said the Israeli message in those meetings was: we are about to resume advancing construction plans for the settlements, but we will do so in a restrained and sensible manner.
The US administration is aware of the domestic political constraints on the wafer-thin Israeli coalition and are reluctant to press Israel on issues such as settlements, for fear this could trigger a coalition crisis and the raise the prospect of the return of Binyamin Netanyahu to power – something the Biden administration wants to avoid.
At the same time, top Biden administration officials told Mr Bennett’s advisers that they expect Israel to take practical steps on the ground that would positively impact the Palestinians.
They also said they expected Israel to refrain from actions such as home demolitions, evicting Palestinians from their homes and the establishment of new, illegal settlement outposts.
Anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now warned that settlement expansion “undermines the chances of restoring the Palestinians’ trust and pokes a finger in the Biden administration’s eye”.
Right-wing opposition lawmakers accused Mr Bennett’s government of setting a “dangerous precedent” with respect to Palestinian building while “throwing crumbs” to the settlers.
“This move is a de-facto adoption of the Palestinian Authority’s plans to take over the land of Israel,” said Knesset member Michal Waldiger from the far-right Religious Zionist Party.
In a separate development, the firing of rockets at Israel by Palestinian militants during the Gaza conflict in May amounted to war crimes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.
In a report issued on Thursday, the New York-based rights group analysed attacks from Gaza that resulted in the deaths of 13 people in Israel, including a five-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, and injuries to dozens more.
At least 260 people were killed in Gaza during the 11 days of fighting.
More than 4,360 unguided rockets and mortars were fired at Israel and hundreds fell short, some killing Palestinians in Gaza.