West Bank settlement starts double in 2013

Starts on new settlement building in the occupied West Bank increased by 123.7 percent last year, Israeli government data released Monday showed.

The release by the Central Bureau of Statistics came hours before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to meet at the White House with President Barack Obama, who has strongly criticised settlement construction.

"We have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we've seen in a very long time," Obama said in an interview with Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg published on Sunday.

"If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited."

The Palestinians have long viewed Israeli settlement construction as a major obstacle to peace talks, arguing that Israel is actively building on land that should be part of their future state.

Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said that government figures showed that work began on 2,534 settlement housing units in 2013 compared to 1,133 the year before.

"It's official, the Netanyahu government is committed to only one thing: building settlements. It shows the lack of commitment to negotiations," a Peace Now statement said.

Obama is expected to try to persuade Netanyahu to accept a US framework for final peace talks with the Palestinians, but the Israeli leader has vowed to resist all "pressures."

Washington brought Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table in July following a three-year hiatus, after the last talks broke down in 2010 over the settlements dispute.