The Israeli government on Sunday approved some $18 million in additional funding for settlements in the occupied West Bank, calling it a response to security concerns.
The decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet will see some 70 million shekels ($18 million, 16 million euros) allocated to settlement-related spending.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the amount is in addition to an already allocated $88 million.
Some 600,000 Jews live in settlements built in the occupied West Bank and in east Jerusalem on lands Israel captured in the 1967 war.
The settlements are considered illegal under international law and are major stumbling blocks to peace as they are built on land Palestinians view as part of their future state.
The United States, the European Union and many others in the international community have called for a halt to settlement building.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby on Sunday reaffirmed Washington’s opposition to settlement building.
“Our position on settlement activity remains clear and consistent. We strongly oppose all settlement activity, which is corrosive to the cause of peace,” Kirby said.
“We continue to look to both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. Actions such as these do just the opposite.”
|Israel is doing everything possible to sabotage every effort to achieve a just and lasting peace.
– Saeb Erekat
Netanyahu’s government is however considered the most right-wing in Israel’s history, with key members of his cabinet strong supporters of settlement building and opponents of a Palestinian state.
The premier faces steady political pressure to support settlements and settlement building, which receive a range of government assistance.
The government argued the increase was needed due to security concerns.
Speaking at the start of the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu called it “an assistance plan to strengthen communities” in the West Bank, saying it would “strengthen security, assist small businesses and encourage tourism.”
Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary general Saeb Erekat called the move a “slap in the face of the international community.”
“Israel is doing everything possible to sabotage every effort to achieve a just and lasting peace,” he said in a statement.
Opposition lawmaker Amir Peretz of the Zionist Union accused the government of “wasting money on political settlements” instead of helping families within Israel.
Besides the settlement money, the government was also expected to approve the allocation of 80 million shekels ($20.7 million, 18.3 million euros) to ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminaries.
The ultra-Orthodox establishment wields significant political power in Israel and its politicians have often played a kingmaker role.