Risking spat with US, Israel to advance thousands of settler homes after W. Bank attack

Smotrich says over 3,000 units will be green-lit in Ma’ale Adumim, Kedar, Efrat as ‘an appropriate Zionist response’ to deadly terror shooting, sure to anger US amid Gaza war

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

A housing project under construction is seen in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim on June 26, 2023. (AP/ Ohad Zwigenberg)
A housing project under construction is seen in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim on June 26, 2023. (AP/ Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israel will advance plans for the construction of more than 3,000 settlement homes in response to a deadly terror shooting in the West Bank, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced late Thursday night.

The move is almost certain to cause a rift with the Biden administration, which is already under massive domestic and international pressure over its support for Israel in the latter’s war against Hamas and has viewed Israeli settlement construction as a major impediment to an eventual two-state solution.

Smotrich said in a statement that the decision to advance plans for 2,350 new housing units in Ma’ale Adumim, 300 in Kedar and 694 in Efrat was made during a meeting he held with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer. It was the latest demonstration of the influence that the far-right minister holds in Netanyahu’s government, as the premier continues to rely on the support of his Orthodox coalition partners to remain in power.

“May every terrorist planning to harm us know that lifting a finger against Israeli citizens will be met with a death blow and destruction in addition to the deepening of our eternal grip on the entire Land of Israel,” Smotrich said, calling the decision “an appropriate Zionist response.”

An Israeli official said the High Planning Subcommittee — the Defense Ministry body under the auspices of Smotrich — will convene in the coming days to advance the settlement construction.

Earlier Thursday, three Palestinian gunmen opened fire near a checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement city of Ma’ale Adumim, killing an Israeli man and wounding 11 others.

Israeli security and rescue forces at the scene of a terror shooting attack at a checkpoint near Ma’ale Adumim in the West Bank, February 22, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Far-right ministers reacted to a deadly West Bank terror attack with calls to impose increased restrictions on the Palestinians.

They also pushed for new Israeli construction in the West Bank, as settler leaders often do in response to terror attacks. Some in the movement oppose the policy, though, arguing that it suggests that settlement construction is not as legitimate when it’s carried out irrespective of a terror attack.

Netanyahu’s government has long infuriated the Biden administration over its policies in the West Bank. Last year’s approval of a record number of settlement homes and the expansion of Israel’s footprint in the West Bank led the US to summon Jerusalem’s ambassador in Washington for the first time in over a decade. Unchecked settler violence sparked first-of-their-kind sanctions against Israeli extremists, with additional such penalties slated to be announced in the coming weeks and months, US officials told The Times of Israel earlier this week.

The officials said the Biden administration has also considered revoking the so-called Pompeo Doctrine from 2019, which deemed settlements “not per se inconsistent with international law.”

One senior US official speculated on Tuesday — two days before Smotrich’s announcement — that the doctrine could be revoked if Israel takes a significant step to expand its footprint in the West Bank. Notably, Israel had avoided convening the High Planning Subcommittee since the war with Hamas broke out. It last met in June 2023, breaking a record in just six months for most homes advanced in a year — 12,349.

In what may have been an attempt to soften the response from Washington, the three settlements that the top Israeli ministers earmarked for construction — Ma’ale Adumim, Efrat and Kedar — are all located west of the West Bank security barrier in areas perceived to enjoy more consensus Israeli support, as opposed to more isolated settlements dozens of kilometers east of the Green Line.

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