JERUSALEM // Israel is moving forward with plans for more than 1,000 new homes in two West Bank settlements, a watchdog said yesterday in a move denounced by the Palestinians as an "abortion" of US peace efforts.
Details of the plans emerged as US secretary of state John Kerry makes an intensive effort to rekindle dormant peace talks, with Israel's settlement building a key sticking point.
The Peace Now settlement watchdog said plans to build 538 new homes in the northern settlement of Itamar and to legalise 137 existing units there were submitted to regional authorities this week for review.
Itamar is a relatively small, isolated settlement southeast of Nablus and surrounded by Palestinian villages. If approved, the plans would enlarge Itamar almost five-fold.
Also submitted for review were plans for 550 homes in Bruchin, of which 52 of them have already been built, said Peace Now's Hagit Ofran.
Bruchin is a former wildcat outpost that was retroactively authorised in April in a decision that brought a statement of "concern" from EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Ms Ofran said that while the Itamar expansion had been expected, the scope of the planned building at Bruchin came as a surprise.
"In Bruchin there are about 50 permanent homes and another 50 mobile homes," she said.
"I didn't know that they were going to propose enlarging the settlement tenfold," she said.
The Palestinians lambasted the move as a "serious challenge" and demanded a response from Washington, the European Union and the international community.
"We consider these new decisions over Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be an abortion of the US administration's efforts," said Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
"This is a serious challenge and abortion of the efforts of Kerry," he said.