HomeNewsboxIsrael Approves Another Wave of West Bank Settlement Construction

Israel Approves Another Wave of West Bank Settlement Construction


A construction site in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in the West Bank, near Jerusalem.

Dan Balilty for The New York Times

JERUSALEM — Israel approved 3,000 more housing units in the occupied West Bank late Tuesday, the largest number in a wave of new construction plans that defy the international community and that open a forceful phase in the country’s expansion into land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

Emboldened by the new Trump administration and internal battles at home, Israel announced plans for the new units in about a dozen settlements only a week after approving 2,500 homes in the West Bank and 566 in East Jerusalem.

“We are in a new era, where life in Judea and Samaria goes back to its normal and proper course,” the defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said in a statement, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

World leaders have denounced the settlements in the West Bank, home to an estimated 400,000 Israelis, arguing that they are choking off the hopes for an agreement on two states — one for Palestinians, one for Israelis.

In December, the United Nations Security Council denounced settlement building — a position that the United States tacitly supported in the waning days of the Obama administration.

“This is a government of settlers that has abandoned the two-state solution and fully embraced the settler agenda,” said Husam Zomlot, strategic affairs adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Trump seems not to share former President Barack Obama’s opposition to the settlements. Whereas the Obama administration expressed regular criticism of them, Mr. Trump has said nothing about the new construction and his administration has shown signs of tightening ties between the two countries.

The timing of the announcement seemed to be driven at least in part by concerns among some Israelis over settlement activity elsewhere: The Israeli Army has issued a warrant dated Monday giving 48 hours’ notice for the court-ordered evacuation of the unauthorized settler outpost of Amona, after years of wrangling. Israeli news outlets reported early Wednesday that soldiers had taken positions outside the settlement, home to 40 families but supported by many more activists.

The announcement on Tuesday could help ease the pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under investigation on several fronts and is trying to push back against politicians further to the right. The education minister, Naftali Bennett, is pressing for legislation — not yet fully embraced by Mr. Netanyahu — to take the drastic step of the first annexation of a settlement, Ma’ale Adumim, just east of Jerusalem.

Mr. Netanyahu is also pushing for legislation that would retroactively legalize scores of settlement homes and outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land. Israel’s attorney general has said that the bill is illegal and that he would refuse to defend any challenges in court.

“Instead of making peace with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his cabinet spend time making peace with the settlers, which at the end of the day, is their preferred partner for the future of the Jewish state,” said Mitchell Barak, a pollster and political consultant.

Mr. Zomlot said that Mr. Netanyahu was using this time of political transition in the United States to test how different the new administration’s stance might be from that of Mr. Obama’s. The prime minister is to meet with Mr. Trump in Washington on Feb. 15.

There are already signs that Mr. Trump intends to be more sympathetic to Israel’s claims: He appointed as ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who opposes a two-state solution and has supported settlements.

Mr. Trump has also promised to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem — a move that Palestinians and Arab leaders have denounced as de facto recognition of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem after capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 war. Mr. Trump has since said the move requires further study.

Nonetheless, Mr. Zomlot said his “working assumption” was that the Trump administration would ultimately fall more in line with past American administrations, which have seen two states as the only solution.

“We are looking forward to working with this administration to find a formula for peace — the ultimate deal, as Trump called it,” he said.

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