Israeli officials on Thursday gave final approval to build 153 housing units in East Jerusalem, two days after approving construction for some 2,500 homes in the West Bank, most in existing settlement blocs Israel hopes to keep in any peace deal with the Palestinians.
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman told AFP the approvals by a city planning committee for homes in the neighborhood of Gilo were among those held up due to US pressure during Barack Obama’s presidential term.
On Sunday, a Jerusalem planning committee approved the construction of 566 housing units in East Jerusalem, in the neighborhoods of Ramot, Ramat Shlomo and Pisgat Ze’ev, on the heels of a phone conversation earlier that day between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, in which the two discussed their plans for the region.
The almost week-old Trump administration has so far remained silent on Israel’s construction plans — announcements that likely would have earned Israel a sharp rebuke from the previous administration. Germany and, to Israel’s surprise, Australia issued statements condemning the announcement Sunday. A UN Security Council meeting over the plans on Wednesday yielded no decision.
Following Trump’s inauguration last Friday, Turgeman spoke of plans for some 11,000 homes in process for annexed East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.
“I’m going to deliver permits for thousands of homes in Jerusalem in the coming months,” Turgeman said.
Most of the 2,500 housing units approved on Tuesday in the West Bank will be built in the large settlement areas, notably in the city of Ariel and in Givat Ze’ev, a settlement north of Jerusalem. But some will also go up in settlements outside the larger blocs, due to prior agreements and court decisions, officials indicated.
“We’re building — and will continue to build,” Netanyahu said Tuesday, following the approval.
Palestinians quickly condemned the announcement, calling it “land theft and colonialism.” They also denounced it as an explicit violation of the recent anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations.
“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 Hanan Ashrawi, referring to an anti-settlements UN decision passed last month.
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.
He also nominated as 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.