Israel has resumed settlement-building in the West Bank with today’s approval of a further 455 building permits for new homes. 89 of the permits are in the Maalé Adoumim settlement near Jerusalem.It is the first new building approvals of the Netanyahu government, using the official argument of absorbing the “natural growth” of already-existing settlements. The package includes 20 permits for the settlement of Maskiot, deep in the Jordan valley, citing the need to rehouse families uprooted from the Gaza strip. The Palestinians say the enclave is vital for their future state, as it is almost on the Jordanian border, and is blessed with rich soil. Were it to become part of Israel, it would virtually cut the West Bank in two. At the moment Jewish settlements in the West Bank are home to some 300,000 Israelis, scattered around 100-odd settlements. To add to the 455 new building permits, 2,500 new homes are in the process of being built already. And in Arab East Jerusalem, 200,000 Isarelis have settled, and will most probably insist on staying. The Israeli prime minister says these new authorisations are a prelude to a moratorium on new building that could last several months. In exchange he wants the Arab nations and Palestinians to commit to reopening peace talks. Fatah’s Hanan Ashrawi is scathing in her response. She said: “He thinks that he can deceive the rest of the world by saying that he wants to stop or suspend settlement activities, or contract settlements activities, but what he is doing under a variety of pretexts is the continuation of settlements and at the same time demanding a price in return.” Israel’s main ally, the United States, demands a settlement freeze in the West Bank to allow talks to resume. However, the number of settlers has constantly grown. Since 1990, they have more than doubled.