PM Benjamin Netanyahu orders new settlements for illegal Jewish settlers on the Palestinian lands, a move that could strain ties with the incoming US administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered that plans be advanced to construct some 800 illegal homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, according to an official statement.
Monday's announcement was widely expected ahead of the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who unlike outgoing President Donald Trump, has been critical of Israeli illegal settlement policies in the past.
"The prime minister ordered the advancement of construction of hundreds of homes in Judea and Samaria," the statement issued by Netanyahu's office said, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.
It said the 800 homes would be built in the settlements of Beit El, Tal Menashe, Rehelim, Shavei Shomron, Barkan, Karnei Shomron, and Givat Zeev, but gave no starting date for construction.
Illegal settlements since 1967 war
Palestinians have condemned Israeli settlement activity, on lands captured and annexed in the 1967 Middle East war, as an obstacle to the creation of a state they seek to create in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Most countries regard the settlements that Israel has built on occupied land as illegal.
Israel cites historical, political and biblical links to the West Bank and over 440,000 illegal Israeli settlers live there, among three million Palestinians.
Trump's pro-Israel policies
Trump's administration provided unprecedented support to Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, including by abandoning a decades-old US policy of opposing settlements.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year became the first top US diplomat to visit an occupied West Bank settlement.
Biden has pledged a more even-handed approach in which he will restore aid to the Palestinians that was cut off by Trump and work to revive peace negotiations.
The two sides have not held substantive peace talks in more than a decade.
Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, who hopes to unseat Netanyahu in March, called the settlement announcement an "irresponsible step" that would spark a "battle" with the new US administration.
"The Biden administration has not yet taken office and the government is already leading us into an unnecessary confrontation," he tweeted.
"The national interest must also be maintained during elections."