A committee of the Israeli Jerusalem municipal government began on Monday to implement a plan to expand the illegal settlement of Gilo, located on the land of the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, by 942 houses. Another illegal settlement, Nofim, received recognition by the Israeli government and will be allowed to proceed with expansion plans.All Israeli settlements constructed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, and are also a violation of signed peace agreements and the so-called ‘road map to peace’ agreed to by the Israeli government.

The 942 homes approved in Gilo settlement expected to be followed by another 850 houses, as well as the expansion of water and electric services and Israeli-only roads.

Next week, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee is expected to approve a further 1,608 houses to be constructed in settlements beyond the 1967 ‘Green Line’ border between Israel and the West Bank.

Over 500,000 Israeli settlers currently live in colonial settlements constructed on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The vast majority of these settlers moved into these settlements, many from former Soviet Republics, in the last 15 years.

The plan to expand Gilo settlement, located south of Jerusalem on the land of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, was criticized in 2009, when it was introduced, by the US and United Kingdom. The US called the Gilo expansion an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians, and requested that the Israeli government not move forward with the plan.

Israeli settlement expansion has markedly increased since September 2010, when a supposed ten-month freeze on settlement construction was not renewed. But even in the year of the so-called ‘settlement freeze’ (2010), statistics show that four times more units were constructed in Israeli settlements than in 2009.

A recent United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion was vetoed by the US, although it was approved by the other 14 members.

Nofim settlement houses 175 Israeli settler families, and the approval by the Israeli government paves the way for it to further encroach and expand on neighboring Palestinian land. One resident of Nofim criticized the Israeli government for taking so long to recognize the settlement, telling reporters from the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahranoth, “For almost six years now we’ve been suffering from lack of legitimacy despite the fact the government is responsible for building and sending us here”. Neve Tzuf and Kiryat Netafim have also put in their applications for official recognition by the Israeli government.