Israel government approves 3,000 new settler homes

Associated Press

Jerusalem — Israel on Tuesday announced plans to build 3,000 new homes in West Bank settlements, pressing forward with a construction binge in the wake of the inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. president.

The late-night announcement came as Israel was preparing to evacuate an illegally built settlement outpost. It appeared to be an attempt by Israel’s nationalist government to calm settler anger over the court-ordered removal of Amona, which was built two decades ago on private Palestinian land. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition is dominated by settlers and their allies.

A late-night statement issued by the Defense Ministry said Netanyahu and his defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, had approved the new construction.

The move followed an announcement days earlier of an additional 2,500 homes in the West Bank and more than 550 homes in east Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as parts of a future independent state — a position that has wide international backing.

The international community considers settlements illegal. But Trump has signaled that he will abandon the policies of his predecessors and be far friendlier toward settlements. He has appointed a prominent U.S. supporter of the settlements to be his ambassador to Israel, and a delegation of settler leaders was invited to his inauguration.

This has emboldened Netanyahu, who repeatedly clashed with former President Barack Obama over settlements, to announce a series of construction plans over the past week and a half. The Trump White House has remained silent, a dramatic departure from the vocal condemnations issued by Obama.

“We are in a new period in which life in Judea and Samaria is back on track,” Lieberman said in a statement.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Trump at the White House on Feb. 15, and the two men are expected to seek understandings on Israeli construction plans for the West Bank.

The announcement followed a military order, dated Monday, for residents of Amona to evacuate the area within 48 hours. Israeli media said residents could be removed as early as Wednesday morning.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that Amona was built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished. It has set Feb. 8 as the final date for it to be destroyed.

Amona is the largest of about 100 unauthorized outposts erected in the West Bank without permission but generally tolerated by the Israeli government.

The outpost, built in the 1990s, stretches out over a rugged, grassy hilltop and looks out across the valley onto Palestinian villages.

The Ynet news site said Israeli forces had cordoned off the outpost, but hundreds of youths managed to infiltrate to resist the impending evacuation.

In 2006, Israeli police demolished nine homes at Amona, setting off clashes pitting settlers and their supporters against police and soldiers. Several dozen trailers have remained and the outpost has become a symbol for the settlement movement.

Its fate has threatened to rupture Netanyahu’s narrow coalition, which is dominated by ultranationalists who support settlements.

Netanyahu has struggled to find a balance between appeasing his settler constituents and respecting Israel’s Supreme Court, which has drawn the ire of hard-liners by ruling against the settlers.