Israeli Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett on Sunday announced plans to build a new Jewish-only settlement in the heart of a flashpoint West Bank city, weeks after the US said it no longer considered such communities illegal.
The move in Hebron in the southern West Bank sparked Palestinian anger and accusations that US President Donald Trump effectively greenlighted the move.
Bennett said the new development would double the Jewish population in the city, where about 800 settlers live guarded by hundreds of Israeli soldiers, surrounded by about 200,000 Palestinians.
Hebron is holy to both Muslims and Jews and sees frequent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces.
The Israeli Ministry of Defense said Bennett had instructed departments responsible for the Israeli-occupied West Bank “to notify the Hebron municipality of planning a new Jewish neighborhood in the wholesale market complex.”
The market area is on Hebron’s once-bustling al-Shuhada Street, which leads to a holy site where the biblical Abraham and his wife Sarah are believed to be buried.
The street is now largely closed off to Palestinians, who have long demanded that it be reopened.
A statement from a settlers’ organization in Hebron hailed Bennett’s decision to “bring Jewish life back to Jewish property in Hebron,” labeling it a “historic act of justice” for the Jewish people.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the new project was a result of the US’s Nov. 18 decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements illegal.
That move broke with decades of international consensus that settlements are seen as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to peace, as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
The Bennett plan “is the first tangible result of the US decision to legitimise colonisation,” Erekat wrote in English on Twitter.
Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now condemned the addition to what it called the “ugliest face of Israel’s control in the occupied territories.”
Israel seized the West Bank in 1967 in a move never recognized by the international community.
Bennett’s move comes amid political turmoil in Israel after general elections in April and September ended in deadlock.
Neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and allies like Bennett, nor their opponents, won enough parliamentary seats to form a viable coalition.
Lawmakers now have until Wednesday next week to find a solution or see parliament dissolved once again for a third election in 12 months.
Bennett’s New Right party draws much of its support from the more than 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the Palestinian territories.
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