Israel advances plan for new settlements, first for Bennett era | Local News

Israel advances plan for new settlements, first for Bennett era

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JERUSALEM – The Israeli government on Wednesday put forward plans to build more than 3,000 new settlement units in the occupied West Bank, the first such step since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took over from Benjamin Netanyahu in June.

A Defense Ministry planning committee has approved the construction of 3,130 new homes that would be spread across 25 existing settlements, most in the heart of the West Bank, the territory the Palestinians hope will be part of a future Palestinian state. The decision is considered the most important step in the planning process, but some administrative steps, including the selection of construction companies, should still be taken before construction begins.

The construction would further consolidate the Israeli presence in the West Bank and the barriers to the creation of a geographically contiguous Palestinian state. The announcement has already raised tensions between the Bennett government and the Biden administration, which opposes activities that complicate the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The move also intensified disagreements within the Israeli government, a diverse coalition of ideologically opposed parties that put aside their differences to impeach Mr. Netanyahu, vowing to extend their fragile alliance by avoiding unilateral decisions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. .

The coalition is a heavy alliance of leftists, centrists and Arab Islamists who support the two-state solution; right-wing people like Mr. Bennett, a former settler leader who opposes Palestinian sovereignty; and center-right politicians like Benny Gantz, who previously expressed nuanced support for a truncated Palestinian state, but who, as defense minister, oversaw Wednesday’s decision to expand settlements.

Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Arab-Israeli war in 1967. It has since authorized the construction of more than 130 Jewish settlements there, a process that most of the international community considers a violation. of international law, which prohibits an occupying power from moving its people into occupied territory.

Critics say Israel has effectively stolen land for settlements from Palestinians whose families have long held it but have not been able to prove ownership to Israel’s satisfaction. The Israeli government claims that much of the land has never been privately owned, while religious settlers believe the land is the ancestral birthright of the Jewish people.

In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, settlements are home to about 700,000 people, or about 10% of all Israeli Jews; the higher the settler population, especially in settlements deep in the West Bank, the more difficult it would be to dismantle the settlements under a possible peace deal.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, criticized the announcement on Wednesday, calling on international leaders in a statement “to confront these Israeli decisions and practices which seek to steal Palestinian land and push things towards a state of instability and tension, which negatively affect everyone.

The building decision has also sparked the Biden administration’s harshest criticism of the Bennett government since Mr Bennett took office.

Anticipating Tuesday’s announcement, State Department spokesman Ned Price said: State solution.

The United States is a key sponsor of Israel, which has received more American aid than any other country, and has avoided strong public criticism from the Bennett government, in part to avoid contributing to its instability.

But a growing number of disagreements have recently strained relations between the two governments. Following Israel’s designation last week of six Palestinian rights groups as terrorist organizations, Price said the United States had not been notified of the move, would ask Israel to explain. reasoning and generally supported a strong civil society.

A clash is also brewing over the Biden administration’s plan to reopen the US consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem, which was closed under President Donald J. Trump. Mr Bennett is resisting the move because he believes it would suggest symbolic support for the Palestinians’ dream of establishing a capital in the eastern part of the city.

The Bennett government has tried to appease the Palestinians, the US government, and left-wing members of its coalition by making modest gestures towards the Palestinians – including increasing the number of Israeli work permits granted to Palestinians; providing identity papers to several thousand undocumented Palestinians in the West Bank; a loan of $ 156 million to the Palestinian Authority, which manages part of the West Bank; and several high-level conversations between Palestinian and Israeli officials, including Mr. Gantz.

On Sunday, the Defense Ministry could also approve the construction of more than 1,000 new Palestinian homes in the West Bank.

But for government critics, it undermined those gestures by doing little to curb a sharp increase in settler violence against Palestinians; allow the continuation of Jewish prayer within the grounds of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem; and the expansion of settlements and the banning of rights groups.

In a separate move this week, right-wing Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin also angered his left-wing coalition colleagues by issuing tenders for the construction of more than 1,000 more housing units in the settlements that had already been approved by the Ministry of Defense.

These developments have collectively strained government cohesion ahead of a crucial vote on a new national budget in November, which the government must pass in order to avoid sending the country to a fifth general election in less than three years.

Mossi Raz, an MP for Meretz, a left-wing coalition party, said in a radio interview on Wednesday evening that the expansion of the settlements was “a slap in the face of the hundreds of thousands of great people who demonstrated every week. to bring down Netanyahu’s government and bring about change.

In response, Mr. Elkin told the broadcasters, “I don’t decide whether or not they meet Abu Mazen,” a nickname for Mr. Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, “so they shouldn’t decide on my own. place if there is a freeze of regulations.

Irit Pazner Garshowitz contributed reporting from Jerusalem and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.

News Today News Today Israel advances plan for new settlements, first for Bennett era

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