Israel advances plans for nearly 2,200 settler homes: NGO

More than 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, including Maale Adumim pictured here with the Judaean desert in the background (AFP Photo/THOMAS COEX)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israeli authorities have advanced plans for nearly 2,200 settlement homes in the occupied West Bank, the Peace Now NGO said Wednesday, the first such approvals since snap polls were called earlier this week.

A defence ministry committee with responsibility for such projects on Tuesday and Wednesday approved the plans, which are in various stages of the approval process, the settlement watchdog said in a statement.

It said 1,159 housing units were given final approvals before building permits can be issued, while 1,032 were at an earlier stage.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government agreed Monday to dissolve parliament and call for early elections on April 9 -- a move that was given final approval by legislators late Wednesday.

Settlements play an important role in Israeli right-wing politics, and Netanyahu met with settler leaders earlier Wednesday in Jerusalem as politicians began to enter campaign mode.

"We'll see an attempt by the left-wing to overthrow our rule with the help of the media and others," he said, speaking of the elections.

"They can't succeed, because if they do -- that will pose a clear danger to the settlement movement."

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat decried in a statement "the theft of Palestinian land and resources for the illegal expansion of settlements as part of Netanyahu's campaign".

The move was "undoubtedly part of the long list of Israeli violations of international law", he said.

Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law and major roadblocks to peace, as they are built on land Palestinians see as part of their future state.

More than 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, which range in size from tiny hamlets to large towns. A further 200,000 live in settlements in occupied east Jerusalem.