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30 Mar, 2017 20:06

Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in decades

Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in decades

Israel's security cabinet has approved construction of a new settlement in the occupied West Bank for ex-residents of the Amona outpost demolished under a Supreme Court ruling last month. This is to be the first Israeli settlement in over 20 years.

The measure must, however, be approved by all ministers who are not part of the security cabinet through a telephone poll, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement, according to Haaretz.

The new settlement is to be built in the area of Emek Shilo, the statement added.

“I made a promise that we would establish a new settlement. There are a few hours until then and you will get all the details,” Netanyahu told reporters earlier on Thursday, according to Reuters.

The settlement is to be built for residents of the Amona enclave that was demolished last month following an Israeli Supreme Court ruling stating it was built on privately owned Palestinian land. Some 40 families have been left without homes.

Palestinian officials condemned Netanyahu's decision to authorize construction on land which Palestinians claim as part of their future state.

"Today's announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace," said Hanan Ashrawi, an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Reuters reported.

The decision comes amid discussions between Israel and the US concerning Israeli setlements. President Donald Trump was expected to support Israel, but quite surprisingly called on “holding back on settlements for a little bit.”

While the US administration has yet to comment on the new settlement construction, a senior White House official told Haaretz that Netanyahu announced new settlements despite President Trump’s concerns over the issue.

"President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements,"said the official. "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 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."

Nearly 400,000 Jewish settlers are currently living in the West Bank along with 2.8 million Palestinians. Another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, an area claimed by Palestinians.

The construction of settlements in the region is considered illegal under international law. The international community has long been voicing concerns over the controversial constructions while condemning the deteriorating security situation between Israelis and Palestinians.

The forced evacuation of the Amona settlement in February prompted violent clashes as police tried to evict settlers from the outpost deemed illegal by an Israeli Supreme Court ruling.

Groups of young people set up makeshift barricades from smashed tiles, metal bars, and large rocks on the hilltop where the outpost was located. Settlers attacked unarmed police officers as they began the operation.

Several police officers were injured with rocks and caustic liquid thrown at them. Several protesters were detained.

Earlier in the day, former Amona residents addressed Israeli authorities in a statement, saying “we demand that the prime minister and the rest of the government unanimously support the establishment of a new settlement… at the site chosen by the residents,” according to Ynetnews.

“You destroyed our homes. Now build new ones. You signed an agreement stating that by March 31 work would begin on a new community. Fulfill that agreement,” the statement said.

The government of Israel stopped building any official new settlements in 1992, according to Israeli monitoring group Peace Now. That, however, did not stop the construction of unauthorized settlements in the West Bank.

According to UN Human Rights Office, more than 100 unauthorized Jewish outposts with thousands of housing units have been erected in existing settlements in the last 25 years without the formal approval of the Israeli authorities.

Tel Aviv, has over the decades, actively promoted settlement construction in the West Bank through the retroactive approval of illegal structures.