Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday pledged to build 3,500 new settler homes in a super-sensitive area of the occupied West Bank, just a week before a tight general election.
Netanyahu's controversial statement is the latest in a string of election promises on settlement construction as the premier faces not only a general election but the beginning of a corruption trial.
"I gave immediate instructions for a permit to deposit (plans) for the construction of 3,500 units in E1," Netanyahu said.
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.
In 2013, Netanyahu vetoed construction in the E1 corridor in the face of pressure from the UN, the EU and the US.
Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, co-director of Jahalin Solidarity, an NGO working to prevent the displacement of Palestinian Bedouin living in the E1 area, said the construction could mean their forced expulsion and constitute a "war crime".
"If allowed to go ahead, this move will end the potential for a viable, sustainable Palestinian state, and is yet another example of how desperate Bibi (Netanyahu) is to buy votes so as to stay out of prison at the expense of our future," she said.
On Thursday, Netanyahu announced plans for thousands of new homes for Israelis in annexed east Jerusalem, with critics calling the move a last-minute incentive to nationalist voters ahead of next week's election.
Israel seized east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community. Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are considered illegal by the United Nations and most foreign governments.