Israel’s government has approved the establishment of its first new settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades.
The Jewish settlement will be used to house around 40 families whose homes were cleared from an unauthorised settlement outpost.
Palestinian officials have condemned the move and have called on the international community to intervene.
The move also comes despite US President Donald Trump asking the Israeli Prime Minister last month to “hold back” on settlement construction.
The Telegraph reports:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced the decision late Thursday following a meeting of his policy making Security Cabinet.
Netanyahu has vowed to build a new settlement to compensate the residents of Amona, an illegal settler outpost that was demolished in February under the orders of Israel’s Supreme Court. Thursday’s announcement said the new settlement would be built near the existing settlement of Shilo, which is nearby to the Amona site. It also said the government had approved tenders to build 2,000 new apartments from previously approved settlement projects.
The Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in 1967, as parts of a future state. In December, weeks before Trump was inaugurated, President Barack Obama allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution that declared all settlements in both areas to be illegal. Trump condemned the decision at the time.
On the campaign trail, Trump indicated he would be far more sympathetic to settlements than Obama and the international community, which consider Israeli construction on occupied land to be illegal. His platform made no mention of an independent Palestinian state, and his inner circle includes strong supporters of the settlement movement.
But since taking office, Trump has appeared to change his position, telling an Israeli newspaper last month that settlements “may not be helpful” and telling Netanyahu at the White House that he would like to see some restraint. Since then, Israel and the U.S. have been in talks over what kind of construction the White House would tolerate.
A White House official sought to play down Thursday’s Israeli announcement, saying Netanyahu made his promise to the Amona settlers before Trump laid out his vision. But the official, who agreed to discuss the matter on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly about it, signaled that the White House would take a tougher line down the road.
“As the administration has made clear: While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace,” the official said. “The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president’s concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this.”
White House envoy Jason Greenblatt has already made two visits to the region, including attending an Arab summit in Jordan this week. In hopes of renewing peace talks for the first time since 2014, the official said the White House will continue to work with all sides “to create a climate that is conducive to peace.”
“We hope that the parties will take reasonable actions moving forward that create a climate that is conducive to peace,” he said.
Over 600,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. But Israel has not built a full-fledged new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, construction during that period has expanded existing settlements or taken place in unauthorized outposts like Amona. Netanyahu’s hard-line government, which is dominated by settler allies, recently passed legislation aimed at legalizing dozens of those outposts.
The Palestinians and the international community consider the settlements obstacles to peace because they gobble up territory where the Palestinians seek to establish their state.
Israel says the status of settlements as well as other issues, such as security, should be resolved in peace talks.
Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi condemned the new settlement approval and called for international intervention.