Hours before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to meet President Barack Obama on Monday, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics revealed that Israel began construction on twice as many homes in the West Bank in 2013 than in the previous year.
Israel began work on 2,534 new housing units in the West Bank in 2013, according to the report — more than double the 1,133 units built in 2012.
Obama warned Netanyahu prior to their meeting that Israel’s current policy on settlement construction is unsettling the peace process. “We have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” the president said in an interview with Bloomberg View on Sunday. “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.” The Palestinians and Israeli have set a date in April as their target for the end of negotiations.
The Palestinians see territories Israel captured during the Six Day War in 1967—the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip—as key components of an independent Palestine and believe Israeli construction in these territories is hindering peace. Netanyahu refuses to use these borders as a starting point in negotiations.
More than 550,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The international community has declared these Israeli settlements illegitimate. Netanyahu halted construction during 2009 negotiations, but resumed the plans when peace talks stalled. During the latest negotiations conducted by Secretary of State John Kerry in July, Netanyahu continued to announce new construction in the West Bank as he balanced the interests of a pro-settler Likud party and international pressures to negotiate peace.