Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced plans for 800 Jewish settler homes to be built in the occupied West Bank, prior to the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden on January 20.
The ordered construction plans in the final days of the pro-settlement Trump administration could potentially risk the ire of incoming President-elect Biden who is in favour of a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
Biden has been critical of Israel’s settlement policies in the past and with the announcement of the new settlements, Israel is attempting to solidify expansion plans before his inauguration.
“Israel’s government’s steady and systematic process of expanding settlements, legalizing outposts, seizing land, is eroding in my view the prospect of a two-state solution,” Mr. Biden previously told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in 2016.
The Donald Trump administration has effectively backed Israel’s right to build West Bank settlements by abandoning a long-held US position that they break international law.
Mr. Trump has also delighted Israeli leaders and angered Palestinians by recognising contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy there.
Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said Mr. Netanyahu wants the settlement move “to be set in stone before the Biden administration comes into office, and maybe changes Israeli-American tacit understandings on settlements that existed under Trump”.
“Netanyahu also wants to tell voters he is the only leader who can stand up to Biden and make sure he doesn’t dictate our policy in the (Palestinian) territories,” Talshir said.
Palestinians condemned the building of the homes as illegal. Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HWR) Kenneth Roth tweeted: “Israel’s latest challenge, Netanyahu to Biden: Here are 800 new war-crime settler homes. What are you going to do about them.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s office said about 800 homes would be built in the settlements of Beit El and Givat Zeev, north of Jerusalem, and in Tal Menashe, Rehelim, Shavei Shomron, Barkan and Karnei Shomron in the northern West Bank. It gave no starting date for construction.
“It is an attempt to race against time and benefit from the last days of the current U.S. administration,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said.
Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, all land captured by Israel in a 1967 war.
Most countries view Israeli settlements as violating international law. Israel disputes this, citing historical, political and biblical links to the West Bank, where more than 440,000 Israeli settlers now live among 3 million Palestinians who have limited self rule under Israeli occupation. (Source: Independent UK)