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Israel Approves Large Settlement Expansion in West Bank


Construction in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim on Sunday. The Israeli government is showing signs that it is increasingly willing to disregard international condemnation of its settlements. Credit Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israel on Tuesday approved the construction of 2,500 housing units for Jews in West Bank settlements, throwing off diplomatic restraint just a few days into the beginning of the Trump administration.

Just over a week after a gathering of world leaders warned that Israel must stop expanding its settlements in Palestinian-claimed territory, the announcement made clear that the Israeli government is feeling emboldened to shake off the constraints imposed by the Obama administration and more willing to disregard international condemnation.

American and European officials had long argued that continued building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was harming any hopes of achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace based on the two-state solution. Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed the principle of side-by-side states, he has also accelerated a campaign of settlement building.

On Sunday, the Jerusalem City Council approved 566 new housing units in a contested part of East Jerusalem that had been delayed over President Barack Obama’s objections.

The Israeli government said on Tuesday that most of the 2,500 housing units would be built in “settlement blocs,” referring to areas of the West Bank that Israel has long intended to keep under any future agreement with the Palestinians, possibly in return for land swaps along the 1967 lines. But in years of failed negotiations, the Israelis and Palestinians have never agreed on the size or location of such blocs.

It also said it would bring to the cabinet a plan to build a large industrial zone to create work for Palestinians in the southern West Bank.

“We are going back to normal life in Judea and Samaria,” Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hard-line defense minister, said in a statement announcing the new settlement building, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

Palestinian officials immediately denounced the new plans.

“Once again, the Israeli government has proved that it is more committed to land theft and colonialism than to the two-state solution and the requirements for peace and stability,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said in a statement.

“It is evident that Israel is exploiting the inauguration of the new American administration to escalate its violations and the prevention of any existence of a Palestinian state,” she added, calling on the United States and other international players to take concrete measures against Israeli settlement activities.

Israel’s continuing campaign of settlement construction has brought harsh international criticism. A month ago, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as having no legal validity and constituting a “flagrant violation of international law” after the Obama administration decided not to veto the measure.

Days later, the departing secretary of state, John Kerry, rebuked Israel’s settlement activities in an impassioned speech, saying, “The status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation.”

But with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in its 50th year, the Israeli government, dominated by right-wing and religious parties, is clearly expecting a friendlier approach from the White House after years of tension with the Obama administration.

David M. Friedman, the bankruptcy lawyer Mr. Trump has nominated as his ambassador to Israel, has led a fund-raising arm of the settlement movement and has dismissed the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. He has already declared that he intends to work in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, where the American Embassy has been for decades, under the State Department’s insistence that the holy city’s status be determined as part of a broader deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Correction: January 24, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated part of the name of the world body that passed a resolution last month condemning Israeli settlements. It is the United Nations —not States — Security Council.

Source: NYT > World

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