OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel approved plans for nearly 14,000 new settler homes during the nine months of peace talks with the Palestinians, an Israeli settlement watchdog said Tuesday as the negotiation period formally ended.
Figures quoted by Peace Now showed that during the talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government approved at least 13,851 new housing through the advancement of plans and the publication of tenders.
"This is an unprecedented number representing an average of 50 housing units per day or 1,540 per month," it said.
"Netanyahu broke construction records during the nine-month peace talks," Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer told AFP.
Israel's ongoing settlement building has weighed heavily on the negotiation process, with the Palestinians infuriated by the relentless pace of new construction approvals on land they want for a future state.
They have demanded a complete settlement freeze as one of the key conditions for any return to the crisis-hit talks.
But Israel has flatly refused, with Netanyahu rejecting the notion that settlement building ran counter to peace efforts, saying he never agreed to any "restraints on construction" throughout the talks.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is mired in a row after reportedly warning that Israel risks becoming an "apartheid" state if it does not make peace with the Palestinians soon, has also referred to the dispute over settlements.
"There is a fundamental confrontation and it is over settlements," he told a closed forum of international diplomats and officials on Friday, according to the Daily Beast online news site.
"Fourteen thousand new settlement units announced since we began negotiations. It's very difficult for any leader to deal under that cloud."