JERUSALEM : Israel plans to build 20,000 new settler homes, the biggest batch of tenders it has ever issued in the occupied West Bank, settlement watchdog Peace Now said on Tuesday. “The housing ministry announced tenders for the planning of 20,000 settler homes,” Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer told AFP. “This is a record,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office stressed he had opposed some 1,200 of the homes slated for construction in the highly contentious area of the West Bank known as E1. But Oppenheimer said the fact that the government was pressing ahead with the tendering process for the remaining 18,800 units — at a cost the Haaretz newspaper put at 45 million shekels ($13 million, 10 million euros) — showed the government’s commitment to the wider settlement project.

“The setting aside of these public funds suggests the government is serious (about settlement expansion), and suggests it’s only pretending to negotiate while it pursues its settlement construction,” Oppenheimer said.

“It also shows that the prime minister does not believe in a two-state solution for two peoples (Israelis and Palestinians), contradicting what he says.” The announcement came after Palestinian negotiators said failure to reach a peace deal with Israel would be better than inking an agreement which allows it to continue settlement construction.