PA slams new settlement as effort to thwart Trump’s peace drive
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PA slams new settlement as effort to thwart Trump’s peace drive

Abbas’s spokesperson says it’s no coincidence that ground is broken on the eve of a visit to the region by Jared Kushner

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday slammed Israel for breaking ground on a new West Bank settlement, saying the move was an attempt by Israel to scuttle efforts by US President Donald Trump to restart peace talks.

“This is a serious escalation, an attempt to thwart the efforts of the US administration and to frustrate the efforts of US President Donald Trump,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesperson for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement posted on the official PA news site Wafa.

The new settlement, to be known as Amichai, is being built to rehouse residents of the illegal Amona outpost, which was evacuated in February in line with court orders because it was built on private Palestinian land.

The breaking of ground occurred just one day before senior White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner was set to arrive in Israel in an effort to advance peace efforts.

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (L) watches as US President Donald Trump visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on May 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (L) watches as US President Donald Trump visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Kushner, who will be joined by Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt, will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas separately in the coming days, to discuss “their priorities and potential next steps,” a senior White House official told The Times of Israel on Monday.

Rudeineh said that the import of the start of construction on the new settlement, as is it coincides “with the arrival of the US president’s emissaries to the region, is that Israel is not interested in the US efforts, and is just as serious about thwarting them as it has been with previous US administrations.”

Construction workers begin work on the new settlement, Amichai, meant to resettle the evacuees of Amona, June 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Construction workers begin work on the new settlement, Amichai, meant to resettle the evacuees of Amona, June 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority, along with much of the international community, considers all Israeli settlements to be illegal and has long argued they are an impediment to peace.

Israel argues the West Bank is disputed territory, and the fate of settlements should be resolved in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, who hailed the start of construction, is treading a fine line between US President Donald Trump’s request in February to “hold back” on settlement activity so as not to jeopardize peace moves and constant pressure from right-wing members of his party and coalition to expand settlement building and even to annex sections of the West Bank.

“Today, ground works began, as I promised, for the establishment of the new community for the residents of Amona,” the prime minister tweeted in Hebrew.

“After decades, I have the privilege to be the prime minister who is building a new community in Judea and Samaria.”

The new settlement — which will be located near the settlements of Shiloh and Eli, north of Ramallah — will be the first of its kind to be constructed since the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993.

Israel Radio said the works started Tuesday involved laying the infrastructure for the settlement. However, the actual building plans still need several stages of planning approval.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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