Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) on Thursday quickly rejected reports that the government approved new construction in Judea and Samaria, the Biblical heartland of Israel.
Responding to reports that construction on over 200 new homes in Judea and Samaria had been approved, an official Government Press Office statement quickly clarified that Netanyahu and Ya'alon "have not approved new construction as has been published."
"Almost all of the permits are for upgrading existing structures. The small proportion of them pertaining to new construction are for the community of Ganei Modi'in, which abuts the fence and which will be part of Israel in any future agreement."
Leftist MK Tzipi Livni, head of the Hatnua faction of the Zionist Union party, said Netanyahu's quick response was telling.
"When the Prime Minister today informs that he actually isn't building in the settlements, he thereby acknowledges that construction in the settlements harms the security," she said.
"All that is left is for him to find courage to say that out loud and not to play games."
Israel's construction and presence in Judea and Samaria are in fact legal according to international law, as proven in the 2012 Levy Report. However, the government has yet to adopt the report, even though the state is "quietly" implementing parts of it according to sources.
Leftists and Arabs unite against Jewish construction
Netanyahu's reaction came after Hagit Ofran, a spokeswoman for the radical leftist NGO Peace Now said the government had given the green light for at least 229 homes, which are at various stages in the technical process.
"This policy is killing the two-state solution," Ofran claimed to AFP.
The projects must pass through five administrative stages before winning final approval from Ya'alon.
Peace Now said this week that the numbers on Judea-Samaria construction more than tripled in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period last year.
Between January and March, projects for 674 housing units passed at least one of the steps in the planning approval process, up from 194 in the first quarter of 2015, it said. The new plans bring the total to at least 903.
Saeb Erekeat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorist group, said in a statement that "the continued Israeli colonization of Palestine is a war crime under international law."
"The latest approval of settlement construction, and the significant increase in Israeli settlement activity during 2016, should serve as a reminder to the international community of its responsibility to put an end to such crimes," he said.
The new plans call for additional homes in a range of towns, including Har Bracha (54 units), Revava (17), Ganei Modiin (48) located northwest of Jerusalem, Tekoa (34), and Givat Ze'ev (76) north of Jerusalem.
Ofran said the new plans "will allow approximately another 1,000 people to move to the settlements, people that we will need to evict in order to get a peace deal."
AFP contributed to this report.