Israel’s plans to build hundreds of new homes in Jewish West Bank settlements have put Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at odds again with Washington and the Palestinians, without appeasing settlers furious over the government’s plan to dismantle an illegally built settler enclave.
On Wednesday, officials announced the government would build 850 apartments after parliament, at Netanyahu’s urging, voted down a bill that would have legalized the Ulpana enclave and other settler outposts built illegally on privately held Palestinian land. The international community condemns settlement construction, and the Palestinians have refused to talk peace while Israel builds on land they claim for a future state.
Netanyahu, long a settlement champion, found himself in the politically difficult position of having to carry out a Supreme Court ruling ordering the 30 apartments in Ulpana destroyed by July 1.
Knowing it would not stand up to the court’s scrutiny, he pressured coalition lawmakers on Wednesday to vote down a proposal by hardline legislators to legalize outposts built on privately held Palestinian land. To blunt the blow to settlers, he vowed to build 300 more homes in the authorized settlement of Beit El, on whose outskirts Ulpana lies.
“Israel is a democracy that observes the law, and as prime minister I am obligated to preserve the law and preserve the settlements. And I say here that there is no contradiction between the two,” he said on Wednesday after the vote.
Later, Israeli Construction Minister Ariel Attias announced that an additional 551 apartments would be built elsewhere in the West Bank.
“Thirty apartments will be evacuated, but 850 will be built instead,” Attias said in a statement. “Under the circumstances, this is a worthy solution.”
The Palestinians and Washington disagreed.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat denounced the new construction as a measure “that undermines all efforts to revive the peacemaking between the two sides.”
In a sharply worded statement, the US accused Israel of hindering peace efforts with the newly announced settlement construction — and appeared to question both sides’ declared commitments to peacemaking.
“We’re very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts,” US State Deparmtent spokesman Mark Toner said. “We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity … It impedes progress on any kind of comprehensive settlement, and that’s ultimately what everyone here, most importantly both sides, both parties, want to see happen. Or at least that’s what they claim to want to see happen.”