Visiting the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the town would “forever remain part of Israel,” promising to build thousands of new homes there.
“I am announcing a turning point in building in Ma’ale Adumim,” Netanyahu said while sitting next to the town’s mayor Benny Kashriel at a Likud party faction meeting. “We will build thousands of apartments.”
Netanyahu’s promise comes despite a recently declared policy of limited settlement construction in order not to antagonize the Trump administration which is working on getting Israel-Palestinian peace talks back on track.
Israelis widely expect that Ma’ale Adumim, home to some 40,000 people in the Judean Desert just east of Jerusalem, will be annexed as part of a land swap under any future agreement with the Palestinians. Critics argue, however, that extending Israeli sovereignty to the large settlement, and a parcel of land known as E-1 between it and the capital, would effectively sever the northern and southern halves of the West Bank, preventing the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state.
Throwing his support behind a proposal to absorb Ma’ale Adumim and several other West Bank settlements into the Jerusalem municipality, Netanyahu promised that “this place will forever remain part of Israel.”
According to the “Greater Jerusalem” proposal initiated by Likud MK Yoav Kisch and backed by Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, residents of Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Beitar Illit and Efrat, along with the Etzion Bloc, would be able to vote in Jerusalem municipal elections, but the settlements would not be under full Israeli sovereignty.
The move would make Jerusalem’s official demographic balance significantly more Jewish and would “bring back Jerusalem’s status as a symbol,” according to the proposal’s preamble. In total, the settlements in question are currently home to some 130,000 Israelis.
Under the same proposal, around 100,000 people living in Palestinian neighborhoods outside the security barrier surrounding the city would be removed from the city’s census, with a new municipality built for them.
The settlements, set up on land Israel captured following the 1967 Six Day War, remain controversial. The Palestinians say they are a major stumbling block to peace and claim the land for a future state. Much of the international community holds them to be illegal under international law.
Israel says that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are legal under both Israeli and international law, as well as justified on historical grounds.
Most Israeli leaders maintain that the largest settlement blocs in the West Bank will become part of Israel in any future peace deal.
Speaking last week at a controversial state ceremony to mark 50 years of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Netanyahu vowed that the Jewish communities in the territory will never be uprooted.
“Settlement is important to you in the same way that it is important to me, so I say very clearly: There will be no further uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel,” the prime minister told the crowd at the event, which was held in the Etzion Bloc.