Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel approved nearly 1,800 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank Thursday, the country’s right-wing defence minister announced, four days ahead of a general election.
The ministry said a planning committee "approved the construction of 1,800 housing units, according to the proposal of the Minister of Defence Naftali Bennett", in a statement that quoted figures adding up to slightly below this amount.
"We don't wait, we act. We will not give an inch of the land of Israel to the Arabs, but for that, we must build there," the statement quoted Bennett as saying.
Anti-settlement NGO Peace Now said a total of 1,739 homes were earmarked, 92 percent of which were deep inside the West Bank.
It said 1,036 were approved through a first major stage, while 703 went through a final major hurdle.
Separately a new industrial park was approved for construction near Qalqilya in the West Bank, Peace Now said.
The announcement was praised by the Yesha council which represents settlers throughout the West Bank.
"This decision strengthens the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria and we are delighted," the council's head David Elhayani said in a statement, using the biblical name for the West Bank.
It was the second major settlement statement in recent days, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday announced 3,500 new homes in the E1 corridor, a highly sensitive part of the West Bank.
The international community has warned repeatedly that Jewish settlement construction in the E1 corridor, which passes from Jerusalem to Jericho, would slice the West Bank in two and compromise the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.
Israel is due to hold a general election on March 2 in which Bennett's far-right Yemina coalition and Netanyahu's rightwing Likud vie for the support of Israel's more than 600,000 settlers.
"In the battle over the settler right-wing vote, Bennett and Netanyahu are dragging Israel to invest in thousands of harmful and unnecessary settlement units," Peace Now said in a statement.
Israel seized the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 in moves never recognised by the international community.
Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories are considered illegal by the United Nations and most foreign governments.
Monday's election will be Israel's third in a year after deadlocked polls in April and September 2019 saw neither Netanyahu nor his centrist rival Benny Gantz able to form a governing coalition.
Opinion polls ahead of Monday's election showed the two parties near neck-and-neck yet again.
Netanyahu, 70, will stand trial next month after being indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.