Israel’s Jerusalem municipality reportedly approved permits for 566 new illegal Israeli settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday, after the plans had been put on hold until after US President Donald Trump was sworn in.
Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Meir Turjeman told AFP news agency that city officials approved the plans which had been previously postponed at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of a UN Security Council resolution in December condemning illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.
The new settlement housing was scheduled to be approved a few weeks ago, but the municipality decided to wait until the end of US President Barack Obama’s administration, as it had been critical of settlement activities, while Trump has been a vocal supporter of illegal settlements, according to AFP’s report.
A spokesperson for the Jerusalem municipality could not immediately be reached for comment on the reports.
Israeli news outlet The Jerusalem Post reported that the 566 settlement units would be built in the illegal Ramat Shlomo settlement, after being approved by the municipality’s Local Planning and Building Committee.
According to The Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat sent out a brief video on Thursday via email, accompanied by a letter of support, welcoming the Trump presidency and its pro-Israel stance.
“My fellow citizens,” Barkat said in Hebrew during the one-minute clip, “during the last eight years, the Obama administration has pushed for a building settlement freeze, he has surrendered to the Iranians and radical Islam, and has abandoned Israel to a hostile UN resolution.
“This week, president Donald Trump enters the White House,” he continued. “Let’s all welcome him together as our friend, thereby conveying a clear message to the world: Jerusalem is Israel’s undivided capital!”
Apart from the Ramat Shlomo approvals, The Jerusalem Post said 216 housing units in the illegal settlement of Ramot and 142 in the nearby Pisgat Zeev settlement were also expected to be approved in the short term, near Ramat Shlomo in occupied East Jerusalem. The current footprint of the three settlements encircles the Palestinian neighborhoods of Shufat and Beit Hanina, where Israeli has escalated a vicious demolition campaign.
Additionally, the municipality’s District Zoning Committee is expected to discuss approval of 5,600 more residential units in Gilo, Ramot and Givat Hamatos when it meets on Wednesday, according to the report.
Meanwhile, a vote on a bill seeking to annex the occupied West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim that was set to be voted on Sunday could be postponed, at the request of Netanyahu following pressure from Trump administration officials, who reportedly told the Israeli prime minister they did not want to be taken off guard by the legislation so shortly after Trump’s inauguration.
Later on Sunday, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that on top of the proposed bill to annex Maale Adumim, Israel’s third-largest illegal settlement, Israel’s Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Yisrael Katz was also expected to present to the Israeli security cabinet a proposal to annex dozens of additional settlements in the Jerusalem area, including Maale Adumim.
Netanyahu is expected to present Israeli policy regarding the new Trump administration in his weekly security cabinet meeting later Sunday.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Trump are reportedly set to meet in early February, when the two could coordinate over a possible shift in Israeli and American policy towards the decades-long illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, which has until now rested on achieving the two-state solution.
According to Haaretz, ultra-right Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett — who was expected to present the Maale Adumim annexation bill — has said in recent private conversations that he had received messages from Trump’s advisers that the new US administration is “not bound by the two-state solution paradigm and is waiting to hear from Israel what its policy is on the Palestinian issue.”
Bennett has repeatedly asked Netanyahu to rescind his support for the two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state, which Bennett perceives to be a security threat to the state of Israel.
Despite former US president Barack Obama having routinely condemned Israel’s settlement expansions, US officials failed to take any concrete actions to end settlement building under his administration and instead inadvertently encouraged the enterprise through consistent inaction over Israel’s violation of international law and continued support of the Israeli government through inflated military aid packages.
Human rights groups and international leaders have strongly condemned Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state by changing the facts on the ground, while members of Israel’s parliament have repeatedly come forward announcing their support for annexing Area C.
A recent report by human rights group B’Tselem argued that under the guise of a “temporary military occupation,” Israel has been “using the land as its own: robbing land, exploiting the area’s natural resources for its own benefit and establishing permanent settlements,” estimating that Israel had dispossessed Palestinians from some 200,000 hectares (494,211 acres) of lands in the occupied Palestinian territory over the years.
The movement of Israeli settlers taking over Palestinian land, and further displacing the local Palestinian population has been a “stable” Israeli policy since the takeover of the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1967, B’Tselem said, underscoring that all “Israeli legislative, legal, planning, funding, and defense bodies” have played an active role in the dispossession of Palestinians from their lands.[Source: Maan News Agency]