Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly promised the United States government that he would freeze the publication of new tenders for illegal Israeli settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory for the rest of 2017, Israeli media reported on Friday.
According to The Jerusalem Post, the alleged freeze was discovered when settlers from the Beit El settlement in the central occupied West Bank discovered that plans for 300 new settler homes -- promised to the settlers by Netanyahu in exchange for a peaceful evacuation of the illegal Ulpana outpost -- were halted.
Beit El residents then erected a "protest tent” outside the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and demanded that Netanyahu fulfill his promise and advance the plans for the settler homes.
On Thursday, Netanyahu reportedly met with a leader in the Beit El settlement and ensured him that the homes promised to the settlers would be excluded from the temporary settlement freeze.
Right-wing members of the Knesset also denounced the decision, with MK Yoav Kisch of the (Likud) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) saying that illegal Israeli settlement building on Palestinian territory was an "insurance policy against the danger of a Palestinian state.”
The marketing freeze is not expected to affect the tenders already issued for Israeli settlements this year, which Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said comprised of 2,858 tenders for additional settler housing in the West Bank.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister’s office was not immediately available for comment.
Last week, it was reported that 2,200 settlement units were expected to be halted in the Gilo and Pisgat Zeev settlements -- located in the Jerusalem district of the West Bank -- and Har Homa settlement in the southern West Bank district of Bethlehem.
Meanwhile, thousands of new settler units were advanced in recent weeks, including units in the Amihai settlement, the first new Israeli settlement established in more than two decades.
Following the announcement last week, Peace Now released a statement summarizing a report from Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS), noting that the report indicated that between April 2016 and March 2017 "there has been a stark increase of 70 percent in construction starts in the settlements, compared to the parallel period the year before.”
According to ICBS’ date, during said time period, the construction of 2,758 housing units began in illegal settlements, compared to 1,619 construction starts between April 2015 and end of March 2016.
Peace Now noted that the data shows that in the first three months of 2017, there were 344 construction starts on illegal settlement housing units, adding that the number was expected to grow in coming months.
"Instead of working to solve the Israeli housing crisis,” -- referring to soaring real estate prices in Tel Aviv -- "the government prioritizes a radical minority living beyond the boundaries of the state,” Peace Now said in response to the ICBS report.
"The highest price to be paid for the sharp increase in construction starts beyond the Green Line is a political price, as such construction continues to distance us from the only way to end the Israeli Palestinian conflict -- a two-state solution."
This is not the first time Netanyahu has temporarily frozen Israeli settlement expansions in the West Bank, also doing so in 2009 and 2010. However, the steady increase of the settler population in the West Bank over the years indicates that settlement expansions have not been deterred by Netanyahu’s temporary freezes.
The reported freeze also came amid US President Donald Trump’s attempts at renewing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, with US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner telling Netanyahu earlier this week that Israel’s settlements were "not helpful” to the process.
However, Netanyahu’s comments in recent weeks, including reassuring his settler voting base that he was "doing everything to protect the settlement enterprise," and that settlements would continue to expand in "all parts of Judea and Samaria (West Bank),” and the repeated demands of right-wing Israeli leaders to block any possibility of an independent Palestinian state, some of whom have called for the full annexation of the West Bank, have left many Palestinians with little hope that a renewed peace process would bring any changes.
Since the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967, between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis have moved into Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, in violation of international law.
The estimated 196 government recognized Israeli settlements scattered across the Palestinian territory are all considered illegal under international law.
Meanwhile, athough Israeli settler outposts -- unapproved by the Israeli government -- are even considered illegal under Israeli law, earlier this year, Israel passed the outpost Regularization law, which would pave the way for the retroactive legalization of dozens of Israeli settler outposts.
Despite Israel’s stated interest in Trump’s so-called peace process, according to Palestinians and rights groups, Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territory reflect an overall goal to depopulate the land of its Palestinian residents and replace them with Jewish Israeli communities in order to manipulate population demographics in all of historic Palestine.
Such policies have been aimed at advancing the colonization of Palestinian land in a continuation of policies implemented since 1948, when Israel was established as a country in historic Palestine, according to rights groups.