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Israel Approves Construction of Hundreds of West Bank Homes

December 2, 1996

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved construction of 474 homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, settlers said today.

Netanyahu also told the settlers he would seek to annex the Jordan Valley as part of any permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians, said Tami Atia, spokeswoman for the Jordan Valley settlers.

According to a statement from his office, Netanyahu told Jordan Valley settlers in a meeting Sunday that the area on the eastern fringe of the West Bank would be ``an integral part of the state of Israel in an permanent (peace) settlement.″

The government also plans to expand the settlement of Maaleh Efraim into a city serving the Jordan Valley, Atia said.

``The Jordan Valley residents left the meeting very satisfied,″ she added.

The daily Haaretz said Netanyahu plans to double the Jordan Valley’s Jewish population to 10,000 by the end of his four-year term in 2000.

Netanyahu’s aides could not be immediately reached for comment.

The development plans were likely to anger the Palestinians who consider settlement construction an obstacle to statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said Israel’s policies endangered Mideast peace.

The Arab League warned Sunday that Israel will endanger the entire Middle East peace process if it goes ahead with plans to expand settlements in occupied territories.

Netanyahu says Israel must remain the only sovereign in the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. He is willing to grant Palestinian self-rule, but says Israel must retain control over overall security and foreign relations.