Israel breaks ground on first new settlement in 20 years

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Israel today broke ground on its first new settlement in the occupied West Bank in nearly 20 years, in what Palestinians said was an effort to thwart Donald Trump’s efforts at peace making. 

The new settlement, known as Amichai, will be the first since 1999 and is located in the heart of the West Bank, in an area Palestinians hope will one day be part of an independent state of Palestine. 

West Bank settlements are considered illegal by most of the international community and Mr Trump had asked Israel to “hold off” on further construction while he tried to revive the moribund peace process.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has been under pressure from his Right-wing base to expand the settlements and he announced the ground breaking at Amichai as evidence he was keeping his promises.     

“After decades, I have the privilege to be the prime minister who is building a new community in Judea and Samaria,” Mr Netanyahu said, using the Biblical name for the West Bank. 

The construction drew a furious response from the Palestinian Authority (PA), who said it was evidence Israel was trying to sabotage a two-state solution to the conflict. 

“This is a serious escalation, an attempt to thwart the efforts of the US administration and to frustrate the efforts of US President Donald Trump,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a PA spokesman.

Plans for the new settlement were approved in March and drew no protest from the US at the time. US officials said they accepted the settlement because Mr Netanyahu promised to build it before Mr Trump laid out his expectations for a slow down in settlement construction. 

The new settlement was approved in March

The new settlement was approved in March

Credit:
REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The new settlement will house around 300 Israelis from the settlement of Amona, which was demolished earlier this year after Israel’s supreme court ruled it had been illegally built on private Palestinian land. 

Mr Netanyahu promised to build the new settlement as a home for the displaced residents of Amona. Tuesday’s work was only preliminary ground clearing and it is not clear when actual construction of buildings will begin. 

Israel’s settler population in the West Bank has grown from around 100,000 in 1992 to around 400,000 today. But most of the construction has been to expand existing settlements, rather than to build brand new ones. 

Advocates of a two-state solution argue that settlement construction pushes peace further away by making it more difficult to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Israel’s government says settlements are not the problem and that the core of the conflict is the unwillingness of Palestinians and other Arabs to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East.

Jared Kushner has been tapped by Donald Trump to lead peacemaking efforts

Jared Kushner has been tapped by Donald Trump to lead peacemaking efforts

Credit:
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

The ground breaking at Amichai came ahead of a visit by Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, who the president has tapped to lead efforts at peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Mr Trump has not said publicly that he supports a two-state solution but his ambition to forge a deal that can be accepted by both Israelis and Palestinians as well as the broader Arab world implies that ultimately he is looking towards two states. 

Mr Kusher will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials and the White House said the meetings would be only the first of many as the US tries to broker a deal.