Reports: Israel to defy US with new settlements

Israel plans to announce construction plans for more Jewish settlements next week, when it releases two dozen Palestinian prisoners, according to multiple reports.

"Israel will declare new building in the settlements next week," an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Wednesday.

The announcement will likely draw sharp criticism from the United States, which recently warned Israel not to engage in such projects in the near future. Palestinian negotiators have said it could damage already weak negotiations. 

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One of Israel’s major news outlets, Channel 2 TV, also reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to make an announcement for “massive construction” next week. 

The official who spoke to Reuters did not indicate how many units would be included in the plan, or where.

Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, also hinted at new settlement plans during a visit to a military base.

"I think it is our right to build, certainly according to our understandings and agreements with the Americans. And in accordance with that, we shall continue to build,” he said, according to Reuters. 

During a visit to the West Bank in early November, Secretary of State John Kerry called the settlements “illegitimate” and urged Israel to limit building more homes as they work toward a final peace agreement.

Kerry revived direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in July, and aims to help facilitate a final status agreement by the end of April.

As part of that initial deal, Israel agreed it would release Palestinian prisoners in four rounds. The third is expected to take place Sunday.