Israel says it plans to build 2,500 more homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.
This is the second such announcement this week, after Israel approved permits for 560 units in East Jerusalem. President Trump, who took office on Friday, is widely expected to be more supportive of settlement expansion than his predecessor.
Settlements are widely viewed as an obstacle to peace by the Palestinians and the international community, and Palestinian officials have responded angrily to today’s announcement.
“We are building — and will continue to build,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Facebook. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the new houses are “in response to housing needs,” according to The Associated Press.
“Most of the units are located within settlement blocs, while some 100 of them are located in the settlement of Beit El, and others in Migron,” the Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes. “However, a look at the planned locations shows the construction is slated for outside the settlement blocs, as well.”
The Obama administration had been sharply critical of settlement expansion. That culminated last month in a rare U.S. abstention from a U.N. Security Council vote condemning settlements built on land annexed by Israel in 1967; the U.S. has typically vetoed resolutions that are critical of Israel.
But there is reason to think the Trump administration will take a different approach. Trump slammed the U.S. abstention on Twitter, saying that “we cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect.”
As the AP reports, Beit El, which is set to see additional homes because of today’s announcement, “has received donations from Trump’s designated ambassador to Israel and from the family of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a top White House adviser.”
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called the move “a challenge and provocation and disregard for the Arab world and the international community [that] requires a real and serious position from the entire world,” the wire service reported.
NPR’s Parallels blog recently explained how settlements have rapidly expanded in the past two decades:
“When the Israelis and Palestinians first began peace talks after a 1993 interim agreement, the West Bank settlers numbered a little over 100,000. Today they total around 400,000 and live in about 130 separate settlements. …
“They have grown under every Israeli government over the past half-century despite consistent international opposition. Hard-line leaders like Netanyahu have actively supported them. Moderates and liberals have also allowed settlements to expand, though usually at a slower rate. The settler movement is a powerful political force, and any prime minister who takes it on risks the collapse of his government.”
Another big issue is whether Trump will carry out his campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem, changing decades of U.S. policy.
“The U.S. position has long been that the legal status of Jerusalem is yet to be determined,” NPR’s Mark Katkov explained. “A law passed by Congress in 1995 requires the U.S. to move its embassy to Jerusalem but allows presidents to waive that requirement, which all have done.”
The provocative idea, applauded by some Israelis, is strongly opposed by Palestinians and could cause unrest across the region.