BEITAR ILLIT, Palestinian Territories: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that his government had done more than all its predecessors to boost Jewish settlement. He spoke as he laid the foundation stone for a new neighborhood in Beitar Illit, the Israeli-occupied West Bank’s biggest settlement with a population of 50,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews. “No other government has done as much for settlement in the land of Israel as the government which I lead,” he said, referring to the biblical Holy Land which many believers see as belonging to the Jews by divine right.
Settlements in the occupied West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem are illegal under international law and are seen as one of the greatest obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu has said he still supports a two-state solution, but peace advocates say his actions show otherwise. His right-wing coalition government leans heavily on the support of settlement advocates. Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967 in a move never recognized by the international community.
More than 600,000 Israelis now live in settlements alongside nearly three million Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. In December, the United Nations Security Council declared all such settlements to be illegal after outgoing US president Barack Obama decided not to veto its resolution. Since US President Donald Trump came to power, however, Washington has remained largely quiet as Israel has announced thousands of new settlement homes. The new development in Beitar Illit will have more than 1,000 homes.
A senior Palestinian official on Tuesday said the White House’s silence over settlement growth and its failure to support the two-state solution encouraged “apartheid” Israeli policies. The criticism by the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Saeb Erekat, came after the Palestinians had previously been careful not to antagonize the new US leader since his inauguration in January. The Jerusalem Post daily said it was the first time since the 2009 start of his current run in office that Netanyahu had taken part in a settlement stone-laying ceremony.
“We are working energetically for settlement in every part of the land,” he said Wednesday. He also pledged to act speedily to construct new homes for the roughly 40 families evicted from the wildcat outpost of Amona in February after Israel’s supreme court ruled their homes had been built illegally on private Palestinian land.
The new development, named Amichai, will be the first government-sanctioned Jewish settlement built in the Palestinian territories in some 25 years. Construction in settlements in the West Bank increased by 70 percent in the 12 months to March, according to data from Israel’s central bureau of statistics. The numbers do not include Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. – AFP