Israel approved the construction of approximately 2,500 homes in the West Bank, most of them in existing settlement blocs it hopes to keep in any peace deal, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Tuesday.
The decision came two days after a Jerusalem planning committee approved the construction of 566 housing units in East Jerusalem, and on the heels of a phone conversation Sunday between Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, in which the two discussed their plans for the region.
Most of the housing units will be built in the large settlement areas, notably in the city of Ariel and in Givat Ze’ev, outside Jerusalem. But some will also go up in settlements outside the larger blocs, due to prior agreements and court decisions.
“We’re building — and will continue to build,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, following the approval.
Palestinians quickly condemned the announcement, calling it “land theft and colonialism.”
“Such a deliberate escalation of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise constitutes a war crime and the flagrant violation of international law and conventions, in particular UN Security Council resolution 2334,” said PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, referring to an anti-settlements UN decision passed last month.
Liberman also said he would request permission from the cabinet for the construction of a Palestinian industrial park in Tarkumiya, northwest of Hebron.
“It will be one of the largest industrial zones in the West Bank, in which we are planning to set up warehouse and fuel storage infrastructure, along with other elements,” Liberman’s office said in a statement.
According to the defense minister, the decision to approve the settlement construction was made in order to “provide a response to the housing needs.”
In total, 2,502 housing units were approved for construction in settlements across the West Bank, with most in the north.
In the northern West Bank, 899 will be built in the city of Ariel, 292 in the Zufim settlement, 166 in Emanuel, 154 in Oranit, 81 in Etz Efraim, 78 in Alfei Menashe, 18 in Elkana and six in Shaare Tikva, the defense minister’s office said.
In the Jerusalem area, some 652 housing units were approved for the Givat Ze’ev settlement, 104 in Ma’ale Adumim and four in Har Gilo.
In the Etzion settlement bloc, 21 homes were approved for Efrat, and the defense minister okayed 87 housing units for the Beitar Illit settlement, outside Bethlehem.
Outside the larger settlement areas, Liberman and Netanyahu allowed the construction of 86 homes for the former residents of the evacuated Migron settlement, who now live in the Yekev neighborhood of the Kochav Ya’akov settlement, south of Ramallah. The approval was granted in accordance with an agreement between the government and Migron residents.
In addition, 20 homes were approved in the Beit El settlement, north of Ramallah, as part of a High Court of Justice decision, the defense minister said.
On Sunday, the Jerusalem Municipality approved the construction of 566 new homes in East Jerusalem, in a vote that had been pushed back from December in order to avoid angering the outgoing administration of former US president Barack Obama. The Palestinians condemned the decision as an explicit violation of a recent anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations.
Also on Sunday, Netanyahu had his first phone call with Trump since he became US president.
On the call, the two leaders discussed ways to “advance and strengthen the US-Israel special relationship” and to boost security and stability in the region, the White House said. Trump stressed “the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between our countries.”
Trump is viewed as being more favorable to Israeli settlement policies than Obama, as he has repeatedly declared that he will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem despite the city’s disputed status and nominated for his ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who is the head of American Friends of Bet El Institutions — a group that raises funds for the West Bank settlement of Beit El’s seminary, a news organization affiliated with the settler movement and other activities in the settlement.
Both Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who Trump appointed as a senior adviser and said will be his point-man on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, have reportedly donated to Friedman’s organization.