The latest settlement plans have been submitted to Israel's Civil Administration with Defence Minister Benny Gantz' approval. More than 450,000 Israelis live in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, excluding those in annexed East Jerusalem.

A view shows the Israeli settlement of Har Homa in the occupied West Bank, May 19, 2020.
A view shows the Israeli settlement of Har Homa in the occupied West Bank, May 19, 2020. (Reuters)

Israel has approved 2,166 new homes in settlements across the occupied West Bank, ending an eight-month lull in settlement expansion.

The approvals, according to official figures sent to AFP on Wednesday, came less than a month after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements to normalise relations with Israel, which in return pledged to freeze its plans to annex swathes of the occupied West Bank.

NGO Peace Now said the settlement uptick signals Israel's rejection of Palestinian statehood and deals a blow to hopes of a wider Israeli-Arab peace.

It said that around 2,000 more homes are expected to be approved on Thursday.

"Netanyahu is moving ahead at full steam toward solidifying the de facto annexation of the West Bank," Peace Now said in a statement ahead of Wednesday's decisions.

READ MORE: Israel’s 5,400 new settlements expose UAE normalisation deal as ‘hoax’

US President Donald Trump sees the Gulf accords as part of his broader initiative for Middle East peace.

But a controversial plan he unveiled in January gave US' blessing to Israeli annexation of large chunks of the occupied West Bank, including the settlements, communities considered illegal under international law.

Normalising relations with Israel

Israel agreed to delay those plans under its normalisation deal with the UAE, something Emirati officials have cited in response to Arab and Muslim criticism.

The two Gulf countries were only the third and fourth Arab states to normalise relations with Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he sees others following.

The Palestinians condemned the accords and quit the rotating presidency of the Arab League in protest at its failure to take a stand against them.

The Gulf agreements broke with years of Arab League policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which made its resolution a precondition for normalising ties with Israel.

READ MORE: Arab majorities overwhelmingly oppose any normalisation with Israel

The latest settlement plans, for a total of more than 4,000 new homes, were on the agenda on Wednesday and Thursday at a session of the top planning committee of Israel's Civil Administration, the Defence Ministry body which oversees civil affairs in the occupied West Bank.

Details of the approvals were provided to AFP by the Civil Administration spokesperson.

READ MORE: How normalising ties with Israel further divides the Middle East

Gantz's approval

Peace Now noted that the plans were approved for submission by Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party who serves as defence minister in a coalition government led by the right-wing Netanyahu.

With Gantz's participation, "Israel will be signalling to the world its bi-partisan support for the end to the concept of a two-state solution and a Palestinian state," it said.

Netanyahu has embarked on a new settlement push "instead of taking advantage of the agreements with the Gulf states and promoting peace with the Palestinians," it added.

Excluding annexed East Jerusalem, more than 450,000 Israelis live in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, alongside some 2.7 million Palestinians.

Among settlements to grow under the latest approvals is Har Gilo, in the southern West Bank between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

With a current population of about 1,600, Wednesday's decision gave it 560 new homes.

Peace Now said that several wildcat settlements built without government authorisation are being approved retroactively.

Israel sees such approval as conferring legality.

READ MORE: Protesters gather across Israel for anti-Netanyahu demonstrations

Source: AFP