JERUSALEM, July 1 (Reuters) - Israel's Supreme Court on Sunday granted the state a four-month extension to remove five apartment blocks built illegally on Palestinian-owned land in a Jewish settlement on the occupied West Bank.
The court had ruled the homes, in the Ulpana neighborhood of the Beit El settlement, must be torn down by July 1.
The 30 families who lived in the buildings moved out last week to nearby temporary accommodation under a deal with the government to go quietly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to construct 851 new settler homes in the West Bank.
In granting an extension until Nov. 15, the court said the demolition could be delayed now that the dwellings it deemed illegal were empty.
Israel is already hard-put to defend settlement activity in the face of world opinion. Palestinians, who seek statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, fear the enclaves built on land Israel captured in a 1967 war will deny them a viable country.
Netanyahu angered settler leaders by helping to defeat the passage of legislation aimed at circumventing the court ruling to remove the apartment blocks.
He has suggested a plan that would avoid destroying the houses, by instead cutting through their foundations and moving them to another part of the settlement where no land ownership claim is pending in court.
About 311,000 Israeli settlers and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank. The United Nations deems all Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. Israel disputes this and has sanctioned 120 settlements, most of them built on land that had no registered owner when it was seized in 1967.
Palestinians have made a freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem a condition for returning to peace talks, which broke down over the issue in 2010.
Israel, which cites biblical and historical links to the areas, says the issue of settlements should be decided through negotiations, and that the Palestinians should resume talks without preconditions. (Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Pravin Char)