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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Israel announced a plan for thousands of new Jewish settlement homes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday as Washington voiced readiness to back de facto Israeli annexations there.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to visit Israel next week, a source told Reuters, a sign that he is weighing in on a territorial issue that has been a centrepiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition-building efforts.
Mr Netanyahu wants to ally with political rival Benny Gantz and start cabinet discussions on July 1 about declaring Israeli sovereignty over settlements and the strategically key Jordan Valley in the West Bank. The unity government deal has been contested in Israel's top court.
Fresh construction for the settlement of Efrat was approved on land that could accommodate around 7,000 housing units, Defence Minister Naftali Bennett's office said on Wednesday.
"The building momentum in the country must not be stopped, even for a second," tweeted Bennett, a religious-nationalist in Netanyahu's current caretaker government.
The settlements are deemed illegal by most world powers and condemned by the Palestinians, who see all the West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war, as theirs for a future state.
The United States has offered to recognise Israeli sovereignty in the occupied West Bank as part of a proposal President Donald Trump unveiled in February, which also envisages talks on founding a Palestinian state in up to 70 per cent of the territory.
Mr Pompeo planned to visit Israel for one day next week and meet Netanyahu, a conservative, as well as the centrist Gantz, a person briefed on the trip said, without elaborating on the agenda. The US State Department had no immediate comment.
The settlement announcement comes on the same day that Israel's parliament began voting on laws approving a coalition deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival-turned-ally Benny Gantz, ahead of a deadline to avoid yet another election.
The alliance formed last month between the right-wing incumbent and his centrist challenger followed three inconclusive elections in less than a year.
Under the three-year deal, Mr Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for 18 months, with Mr Gantz as his alternate, a new position in Israeli governance.
They will swap roles midway through the deal, with cabinet positions split between Netanyahu's Likud party and Mr Gantz's Blue and White alliance, as well as their respective allies.
The deal could offer Israel rare political stability as it seeks to repair the economic damage wrought by the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 16,000 people in the country.
But the pact's opponents have sought to torpedo it in the Supreme Court and in parliament.
Updated: May 6, 2020 07:02 PM
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