Israel approves more than 500 new settler homes in East Jerusalem

Move comes two days after US President Donald Trump – who is much more sympathetic to Israeli policy than his predecessor Barack Obama – takes office

Sunday 22 January 2017 11:02
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Israeli settlement building in East Jerusalem has accelerated in recent years
Israeli settlement building in East Jerusalem has accelerated in recent years

Israel has approved the construction of 566 settler homes in East Jerusalem, officials have said.

The expansion of three different settlements was confirmed on Sunday by the Jerusalem Municipality just two days after US President Donald Trump, who has vowed support of the state, took office.

The planned permits had been previously held up until the end of former President Barack Obama’s tenure, Meir Turgeman, chair of the city hall’s Planning and Building committee, told Israel Radio.

Mr Obama’s administration has been highly critical of settlement expansion over the 1967 Green Line.

In December, the 15-member UN Security Council voted 14 – 0 to condemn Israeli settlements as a “flagrant violation of international law” for the first time in decades, after US ambassador Samantha Power raised her hand as the lone abstention – a symbolic break with US policy in the past, which had been to use its veto power to shield Israel from international reproval on the issue.

However, the incoming Trump administration has struck a much more sympathetic tone towards its ally, appointing a pro-settlement ambassador, David Friedman, and inviting pro-settlement groups to attend Mr Trump’s inauguration this week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to meet with Mr Trump next week, in one of the new US President’s first meetings with a world leader.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem during the Six Day War, in a move which has never been formally recognised by the international community. The city is claimed by both Palestinians and Israelis as their capital.

Barack Obama uses final interview as President to slam Israeli policy on settlements

A campaign trail promise to move the US embassy in the country from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has also angered Palestinians, with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warning that such a decision would derail the already protracted peace process.

Since the 1970s successive Israeli governments have encouraged large numbers of Jews to move onto the occupied land. The total settler population in the West Bank is now thought to be 550,000 strong.

Settlement building, which has increased year-on-year under current right-wing Prime Minister Netanyahu, is viewed as one of the major stumbling blocks to a lasting peace deal in the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr Netanyahu says the Palestinian failure to recognise Israel as a Jewish state is the biggest obstacle to peace, rather than settlements.

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