Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the start of work Tuesday on a new settlement in the occupied West Bank on the eve of a peace mission pushed for by the White House.
“Today, the work on the ground has begun, as I promised, to establish a new settlement for the Amona settlers,” Netanyahu tweeted over a picture of a small bulldozer and a digger working on a rocky hill overlooking a vineyard.
The Amichai settlement, in the northern West Bank, will house some 300 settlers evicted in February from the Amona outpost after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled their homes had been built illegally on privately-owned Palestinian land.
It is the first new Jewish settlement in the West Bank in some 25 years. The extensive construction in the meantime has focused on expanding existing settlements.
“After dozens of years, I have the privilege to be the prime minister building a new settlement in Judaea and Samaria,” Netanyahu tweeted, using the Hebrew biblical term for the West Bank.
No date has been announced for actual housing construction.
Netanyahu’s announcement comes a day after Trump’s special representative Jason Greenblatt arrived for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials on relaunching peace talks that collapsed in 2014. Yet, highlighting the earth-moving work suggests he believed he had little to fear from US President Donald Trump’s administration over settlement building that has drawn Palestinian and international condemnation.
Greenblatt is to be joined by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner on Wednesday.
Together they will “spearhead the peace effort” the US administration believes is possible, a White House official said.
During a meeting at the White House in February, Trump asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit”, a request seen as part of an effort to build trust with the Palestinians ahead of a renewed push for peace.
Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, are illegal under international law and are considered one of the main obstacles to peace.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called the ground-breaking “a grave escalation and an attempt to foil efforts by the American administration to revive negotiations”, especially (before) the arrival of the US envoys”.
Ahead of the arrival of the two envoys, the White House urged Israelies and Palestinians to “create an environment conducive to peacemaking”.