Israel advances plan for new settlements, first for Bennett era

JERUSALEM – The Israeli government on Wednesday put forward plans to build more than 3,000 new settlement units in the occupied West Ban...


JERUSALEM – The Israeli government on Wednesday put forward plans to build more than 3,000 new settlement units in the occupied West Bank, the first such move since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took over from Benjamin Netanyahu in June.

A Defense Ministry planning committee has approved the construction of 3,130 new homes that would be spread across 25 existing settlements, most in the heart of the West Bank, the territory the Palestinians hope will be part of a future Palestinian state. The decision is considered the most important step in the planning process, but some administrative steps, including the selection of construction companies, should still be taken before construction begins.

The construction would further consolidate the Israeli presence in the West Bank and the barriers to the creation of a geographically contiguous Palestinian state. The announcement has already raised tensions between the Bennett government and the Biden administration, which opposes activities that complicate the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The move also heightened disagreements within the Israeli government, a diverse coalition of ideologically opposed parties that put aside their differences to remove Mr. Netanyahu from office, promising to prolong their fragile alliance by avoiding unilateral decisions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The coalition is a heavy alliance of leftists, centrists and Arab Islamists who support the two-state solution; rightists like Mr. Bennett, a former settler leader who opposes Palestinian sovereignty; and center-right politicians like Benny Gantz, who previously expressed nuanced support for a truncated Palestinian state, but who, as defense minister, oversaw Wednesday’s decision to expand settlements.

Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Arab-Israeli war in 1967. It has since allowed the construction of more than 130 Jewish settlements there, a process that most of the international community considers. a violation of international law, which prohibits an occupying power from moving its population into occupied territory.

Critics say Israel has land effectively stolen for settlements of Palestinians whose families had held them for a long time but could not prove ownership to Israel’s satisfaction. The Israeli government claims that much of the land has never been privately owned, while religious settlers believe the land is the ancestral birthright of the Jewish people.

In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, settlements are home to about 700,000 people, or about 10% of all Israeli Jews; the higher the settler population, especially in settlements deep in the West Bank, the more difficult it would be to dissolve settlements under a possible peace deal.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, criticized the announcement on Wednesday, calling on international leaders in a statement “to confront these Israeli decisions and practices which seek to steal Palestinian land and push things towards a state of instability and tension, which negatively affect everyone.

The building decision has also sparked the Biden administration’s harshest criticism of the Bennett government since Mr Bennett took office.

Anticipating Tuesday’s announcement, State Department spokesman Ned Price noted: “We strongly oppose settlement expansion, which is totally incompatible with efforts to reduce tensions and ensure calm, and this undermines the prospects for a two-state solution. “

The United States is a key sponsor of Israel, which has received more American aid than any other country, and has avoided strong public criticism from the Bennett government, in part to avoid contributing to its instability.

But a growing number of disagreements have recently strained relations between the two governments. Following Israel’s designation last week of six Palestinian rights groups as terrorist organizations, Price said the United States was not warned of the move, would ask Israel to explain its reasoning and generally support a strong civil society.

A clash is also brewing over the Biden administration’s plan to reopen the US consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem, which was closed under President Donald J. Trump. Mr Bennett is resisting the move because he believes it would suggest symbolic support for the Palestinians’ dream of establishing a capital in the eastern part of the city.

The Bennett government tried to appease the Palestinians, the U.S. government and left-wing members of its coalition by make modest gestures to the Palestinians – including an increase in the number of Israeli work permits granted to Palestinians; providing identity papers to several thousand undocumented Palestinians in the West Bank; a loan of $ 156 million to the Palestinian Authority, which manages part of the West Bank; and several high-level conversations between Palestinian and Israeli officials, including Mr. Gantz.

On Sunday, the Defense Ministry could also approve the construction of more than 1,000 new Palestinian homes in the West Bank.

But for government critics, it undermined those gestures by doing little to curb a sharp increase in settler violence against Palestinians; allow Jewish prayer to continue in the grounds of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem; and the expansion of settlements and the banning of rights groups.

In a separate decision this week, right-wing Housing Minister Zeev Elkin also angered his left-wing coalition colleagues by issuing tenders for the construction of more than 1,000 more homes in settlements that had already been approved by the Ministry of Defense.

These developments have collectively strained government cohesion ahead of a crucial vote on a new national budget in November, which the government must pass in order to avoid sending the country to a fifth general election in less than three years.

Mossi Raz, an MP for Meretz, a left-wing coalition party, said in a radio interview Wednesday night that the settlement expansion was “a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of great people who demonstrated every week to do so. fall Netanyahu’s government and bring about change.

In response, Mr. Elkin told the broadcasters, “I don’t decide whether or not they meet Abu Mazen,” a nickname for Mr. Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, “so they shouldn’t decide on my own. place if there is a freeze of regulations.

Irit Pazner Garshowitz contributed reporting from Jerusalem and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Israel advances plan for new settlements, first for Bennett era
Israel advances plan for new settlements, first for Bennett era
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