Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday announced plans for the establishment of a new West Bank settlement to replace the illegal outpost of Amona, that is currently being evacuated and demolished as per a court order.
The settlement would be the first new one to be built in some 25 years.
While Israel stopped establishing settlements in the early 1990s, outposts set up since then have been retroactively given approval, and existing settlements have expanded their footprints, sometimes being neighborhoods of existing settlements in name only.
In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu had instructed a team to look into possible locations for the new settlement. The team consists of his chief of staff, representatives of the settlement movement and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s adviser for settlement affairs.
The statement said Netanyahu a month and a half ago promised the settlers a new community if efforts to save Amona failed.
The announcement was made as police were evacuating the West Bank outpost, which the High Court of Justice has long held was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
After years of legal wrangling, the High Court in 2014 ordered the government to evacuate and demolish the hilltop community by December 25, 2016. But under fierce pressure from settlers and their Knesset supporters, the government sought to reach a compromise with residents that would allow them to remain in their homes without circumventing the court.
In late December, a deal was struck that would see 24 of the outpost’s 41 families moved to an adjacent plot of land on the same hilltop, while the rest would relocate to the nearby settlement of Ofra.
But local Palestinians objected to the government plan, saying the adjacent plot was also privately owned, and the High Court earlier on Wednesday sided with the Palestinian complainants, overriding the deal.
With moving to the adjacent plot off the table, an Amona spokesperson told The Times of Israel that residents would agree to relocating the entire settlement.
“In the absence of any other option, the residents will accept the offer to establish a new settlement,” Ofer Inbar said.
Settlements are viewed by most international leaders as illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this, and as major stumbling blocks to peace since they are built on land the Palestinians envision for their future state.
US President Donald Trump has signaled a more tolerant approach to Israel’s settlement enterprise. He has nominated a prominent US supporter of the settlements to be his ambassador to Israel, and a delegation of settler leaders was invited to his inauguration.
This has emboldened Netanyahu, who repeatedly clashed with President Barack Obama over settlements, to announce a series of construction plans over the past week and a half.
In the less than two weeks since Trump took office, Israel has announced the construction of some 6,000 new homes in existing settlements, drawing rebuke from the international community.
The Trump White House has remained silent, a dramatic departure from the vocal condemnations issued by Obama.