Israel’s government approved the first West Bank settlement in two decades on Thursday, creating the first serious test for US President Donald Trump’s new foray into Middle East peacemaking.
The White House pointedly avoided any specific condemnation of the announcement, although it said that further settlement activity “does not help advance peace” and that it expects Israel to show restraint moving forward.
Still, the relatively tepid response was a far cry from the automatic condemnations voiced by the Obama’s administration in reaction to Israeli settlement announcements. The White House statement even went so far as to “welcome” what appears to be a limited Israeli commitment to take Mr Trump’s concerns about settlements into “consideration,” without any guarantees to avoid similar announcements. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced the decision on late Thursday following a meeting of his policy making security cabinet.
Mr Netanyahu has vowed to build a new settlement to compensate the residents of Amona, an illegal settler outpost that was demolished in February under the orders of Israel’s Supreme Court.
Thursday’s announcement said the new settlement would be built near the existing settlement of Shilo, which is nearby to the Amona site. It also said the government had approved tenders to build 2,000 new apartments from previously approved settlement projects.
The Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in 1967, as parts of a future state.
In December, weeks before Mr Trump was inaugurated, President Barack Obama allowed the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution that declared all settlements in both areas to be illegal.