JERUSALEM — Israel legalized three unsanctioned West Bank settler outposts and was trying to save another Tuesday, infuriating the Palestinians as the chief U.S. Mideast envoy was in the region laboring to revive peace efforts.
The decision fueled suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line coalition would try to legalize as many rogue settlement sites as possible to cement Israel’s hold on occupied land the Palestinians claim for a state.
Netanyahu faces stiff pressure from pro-settler hard-liners within his own coalition to fend off legal challenges to the unauthorized construction. Some hard-liners have even warned that the coalition, which until now has been remarkably stable, could unravel over the issue.
Palestinians claim all the West Bank and east Jerusalem as the core of their hoped-for state, and see all Israeli settlement as illegal encroachment on those lands. They have refused to restart peace talks until construction halts.
“We call upon the Israeli government to immediately stop all unilateral acts,” said senior Palestinian official Nabil Abu Rdeneh. “Netanyahu is pushing things into deadlock once again.”
A string of Israeli governments have pledged not to build any new settlements. Critics said the settler movement, with quiet support from the government, has used the outposts to grab more West Bank land.
Dozens of clusters of houses or mobile homes dot the West Bank, in addition to more than 120 authorized settlements.
Netanyahu said the issue of settlements should be resolved through peace talks.
Israel began settling the West Bank and east Jerusalem immediately after capturing them in the 1967 Mideast war, and 500,000 Jews now live there. The international community widely condemns the construction.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was concerned about the decision.
“We have raised this with the Israeli government, and we are seeking clarification,” Nuland said. “We don’t think this is helpful to the process, and we don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity,” she said.
The Israeli announcement came as U.S. envoy David Hale was in the region, on a new mission to restart negotiations.
The Israeli government’s formulation of its decision was that it was “formalizing the status” of the three longstanding enclaves that are home to hundreds of Jewish settlers.