Israel's Cabinet on Tuesday unanimously approved a proposal to build over 700 housing units for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in addition to 6,000 Israeli settlement housing units.
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door meeting, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government advanced the proposal late Tuesday. It appeared timed to coincide with a visit by President Donald Trump's son-in-law and chief Mideast envoy Jared Kushner, who is expected in the region this week.
The permits would be for construction in Area C, the roughly 60% of the West Bank where Israel exercises full control and where most Jewish settlements are located. Netanyahu's government has approved the construction of tens of thousands of settler homes, but permits for Palestinian construction are extremely rare.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek these areas as parts of a future state. Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law and an impediment to a two-state solution to the conflict.
Touring new construction in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, south of Jerusalem, Netanyahu said Wednesday that "not a single settlement or a single settler will ever be uprooted."
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a religious nationalist in Netanyahu's government, wrote on Facebook that he backed the construction of Palestinian housing in Area C because "it prevents the establishment of a terrorist Arab state in the heart of the land" and asserts Israeli sovereignty over Area C.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority has control of civilian affairs in Areas A and B, which include the West Bank's main Palestinian cities and towns.
Kushner is returning to the Middle East this week to promote the administration's call for a $50 billion economic support plan for the Palestinians, which would accompany a Mideast peace plan that the administration has yet to release.
The Palestinians have rejected the agreement out of hand and cut off all contact with the Trump administration, saying its policies are unfairly biased toward Israel.
The Trump's administration's Mideast team is spearheaded by people with close ties to Israel's settler movement. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, recently told the New York Times that Israel has the "right" to annex some of the West Bank. Both critics and supporters of the settlements say the White House's friendly attitude has encouraged a jump in settlement activity.