OVER U.S. OBJECTIONS, ISRAEL APPROVES WEST BANK HOMES
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, authorized construction bids on Monday for another 690 homes in the occupied West Bank in the face of pro forma American criticism.
The houses will be built in Maale Adumim and Betar Illit, two settlements near Jerusalem that the Israeli government says it intends to keep in any agreement with the Palestinians.
Mr. Olmert, whose Kadima Party was elected earlier this year on a promise to pull thousands of Israeli settlers out of the West Bank, beyond the route of Israel's separation barrier, has been clear about keeping and expanding settlements inside the barrier, even though they are on land occupied since the 1967 war.
The Construction and Housing Ministry published advertisements on Monday seeking construction proposals for the largest settlement activity undertaken by this government. Israel has also promised President Bush that it will pull down more than 20 illegal outposts created since March 2001, but has not done so.
The Bush administration's position is that Israel should not expand settlements in the West Bank, because it makes the process of a final agreement harder. In general, much of the world considers Israeli settlements in territory seized in the 1967 war, including East Jerusalem, to be illegal, which Israel disputes.
Stewart Tuttle, the spokesman for the American Embassy in Israel, said Monday that "in general it's a principle of the road map - a foundation to reach peace in the region - that Israel not only remove illegal outposts, but also not expand settlements in the West Bank."
The road map is the multistage peace plan supported by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations and agreed to in principle by the Palestinians and Israel. The Palestinians, in the first stage, are supposed to begin the disarming and dismantling of armed militias and terrorist groups.
The United States, Mr. Tuttle said, opposes "any actions that would prejudice final status negotiations, which would include the final borders of Israel and Palestine."
But such criticism has had little effect on Israeli policy in the past, and is not expected to matter in this case. In general, Israel says it is not "expanding" settlements, but "thickening" them within existing built-up areas.