Israel approves construction of over 2,000 housing units in West Bank settlements

Har Gilo settlement, located between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, October 13, 2020.

Israel on Wednesday (October 14th) approved the construction of 2,166 housing units in settlements in the West Bank. These authorizations put an end to an eight-month period of effective freezing of new construction in this territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

They come less than a month after the signing of an agreement to normalize their relations between the Jewish state and two Arab Gulf countries. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain concluded these agreements on September 15 in Washington, under the leadership of US President Donald Trump, joining Arab countries recognizing Israel after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

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The Palestinians see these agreements as a “Betrayal” from these two countries. In the past, the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was seen as a sine qua non for the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries.

Israeli settlements are considered contrary to international law and as an obstacle to the two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, the UN recalls. The Trump administration, for its part, decreed in November that these settlements were not against the law

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The American president presented at the end of January his plan for the Middle East, which notably provides for the annexation by Israel of the Jordan Valley (30% of the West Bank) and of the more than 130 existing settlements, and the creation of a state Palestinian in an amputated territory.

Booming settlements under the leadership of Netanyahu

As part of the normalization of their relations, Israel had undertaken, according to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to suspend its project of annexing the Palestinian territories. A concession welcomed by European governments and some Arab governments. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank was only “Postponed” and that Israel was not “Not given up”.

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The construction of more than 2,000 additional homes must also be approved Thursday, the Israeli anti-colonization NGO Peace Now said in a statement. Israeli Prime Minister “De facto reinforces the annexation of the West Bank”, also underlined the NGO. According to Peace Now, 560 new homes will be built in the Har Gilo settlement, located between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and several settlements established without official permits will be retroactively legalized.

More than 450,000 Israelis live in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which has boomed in recent years under the leadership of Mr. Netanyahu and under Trump’s tenure.

For Peace Now, the Israeli Prime Minister is wasting an opportunity to make peace. “Instead of taking advantage of the agreements with the Gulf countries and promoting peace with the Palestinians, it hijacks the priorities of Israel to satisfy a marginal minority” of its traditional nationalist electorate, says the organization.

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These new constructions are approved by the leader of the centrist party Bleu-blanc Benny Gantz, former rival of Mr. Netanyahu and current minister of defense, underlines “Peace now”. “This is a message from Israel to the international community which means (…) the abandonment of the two-state solution”, says the organization.

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