Israel began building twice as many settler homes in the occupied West Bank last year as in 2012, official data showed on Monday, just hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama.
Obama has been sharply critical of Jewish construction on land Palestinians want for a future state. Such settlement is deemed illegal in international law.
A spokesman for Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Sunday at the start of a five-day visit to the United States, had no immediate comment on the figures, which were released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
It said the number of new construction projects in the settlements jumped to 2,534 in 2013 from 1,133 the year before, but did not say where specifically the houses were being built.
Citing security concerns and historic and Biblical links to the territory, Israel says it intends to keep large settlement blocs in any future peace deal. Palestinians say relentless settlement expansion makes a mockery of their aspirations to an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Obama issued a veiled warning to Netanyahu on Sunday, saying it would be harder for Washington to defend Israel against efforts to isolate it internationally if U.S.-led peace talks fail.
“What I do believe is that if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction and … if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited,” Obama told Bloomberg View.
He urged Netanyahu to “seize the moment” to help achieve a framework agreement that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to forge as the basis for a peace settlement.
Israel’s anti-settlement group Peace Now said the increase in settlement building starts showed the Israeli government’s “lack of commitment to negotiations”.
More than 500,000 Jewish settlers live on land seized by Israel in the 1967 war.